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Common Sense and the Holy Spirit January 24, 2010

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Body of Christ, Christian Liberty, Guidance, Holy Spirit, Leadership, Religion, Sermons.
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During the past four weeks, we have seen that the Bible teaches that those who put their faith in Christ alone for salvation, receive the person of the Holy Spirit for indwelling. The power of the Holy Spirit for witnessing of Christ is promised. This power or ability to witness of Christ is displayed in us through the filling of the Spirit.

There are, however, those who resist the Word of God, the gospel of Christ but even among them, the power of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the life of the Apostle Paul, can wake a man up and bring him to salvation.

Further, every believer is selected by the Spirit to function within the body in reaching the world with the gospel of Christ as well in edifying one another.

There are, of course, many obstacles (which is part of why the book of Acts is such fascinating reading) but the body of Christ is equipped with COMMON SENSE FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. This common sense guides us in overcoming some of these obstacles.
Acts 15:1-33

If ever there is an area of life open to the non-sensical, it is that of guidance. Haddon Robinson in “Decision-Making by the Book” tells the oft-repeated story of a man who was “…attempting to discover the mind of God by taking his chances with the Bible. He simply shut his eyes, opened up his Bible, and put his finger on a passage. Opening his eyes, he read this passage from Matthew 27: ‘Then he went away and hanged himself.’ Somehow, the fellow didn’t think that gave him any direction for his problem, so he closed his eyes again and opened his Bible to another passage. He looked and read Jesus’ statement in Luke 10: ‘Go and do likewise.’ That wasn’t quite what he was looking for either, so he tried one more time. He shut his eyes, opened his Bible, and read the statement in John 2:5, “Do whatever he tells you.’”

Now this is a humorous story but it points out that there are times when we face difficulties and problems so difficult that the temptation to forsake common sense is great.

Now there are many ways to maintain common sense. Being married to a good spouse, listening to the advice of wise parents, and seeking the counsel of experts in a certain field are all ways to maintain common sense in our actions and decisions. We, however, also have, as these people in Jerusalem had, the Holy Spirit within us both as individuals and as a church. He is the source of all knowledge and of all common sense. Today I would like for us to look at three lessons that the common sense given by the Holy Spirit teaches the body of Christ.

A. The common sense given us by the Holy Spirit teaches us to depend on God’s Word for guidance (Acts 15:15-19). This should not surprise us, since we know that the Holy Spirit is the divine author of the Scriptures. Yet we have already seen that it is possible to use the Scriptures without the common sense given by the Holy Spirit.

What then do I mean when I say the common sense given us by the Holy Spirit teaches us to depend on God’s Word for guidance? It teaches us to understand God’s perspective of this world. These people had a tough problem to solve. It potentially could lead to the first division within the church along religious/ethnic lines and to the weakening of the body of Christ. The problem could not simply be solved by the apostles proclaiming, “We said so!” That is why, after Peter spoke from his own personal experience and Paul and Barnabas reported on what God had done among the Gentiles, James, the writer of the epistle of James stood up and quoted or read from Amos 9:11-12.

Now Amos is talking about the millennial kingdom which is still future for us. It would seem that this might not apply. James, however, understood God’s plan for mankind as revealed in the Old Testament and understood that God’s plan is not to make Gentiles into Jewish proselytes but rather to make Jew and Gentile alike one people in Christ. God’s plan is to join the two groups of believers spiritually and not culturally.

WHY WE NEED A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

It is important for us to have a biblical perspective on life because perspective answers the “why” questions of life (idea from Rick Warren). Perspective will cause us to love God more. It will help us to handle trials, “My brethren count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2-3, 12). It will help us to love God more and to resist temptation, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity towards God” (James 4:4). I was speaking with one of our men this week who pointed out that his awareness that sin will keep him from some of the blessings of God helps him to resist temptation. Where does that come from? It comes from a biblical perspective of temptation and blessings.

This Holy Spirit taught dependence on God’s Word for guidance will protect us from error. This is what is happening in this chapter. Will the church fall into the error of performing rituals for salvation or will they continue to teach that Christ alone is the way of salvation? Because of the biblical perspective taught by James and accepted by the church, they did not fall into the trap of salvation by good works. Biblical perspective is not about being right about truth. It is about knowing how to live truth. That is why we have been looking at the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts and why on Wednesday nights we have been tackling the issue of perseverance in salvation. It is one of the reasons I encourage you to be in Sunday School. You need a biblical perspective of life. We need to know how to live the truth.

Now this does not mean that all the problems you will ever have are addressed in the Bible. There are many times when we have no specific answer in the Scripture for our particular problem. These people did not have a clear Old Testament verse that directly addressed their problem. They did though have the Scriptures and they had the Holy Spirit to give them common sense in discerning what they should do.

B. The common sense given by the Holy Spirit teaches us to work together for solutions (Acts 15:1-7, 22-27, 30-33). Again, this should make sense to us. Just as the Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures, He is the one who unites us together into the body of Christ. So it seems reasonable to conclude that if we are all baptized by the same Spirit into the body of Christ, we should be able as a body to work together for solutions. We know, however, that this is not always easy. Some issues are especially tough.

a. We cannot get around these issues because particularly tough issues often demand solutions (Acts 15:1-7). There are several reasons for this. Tough issues demand solutions, because the consequences of a decision made are significant. There are times when the consequences are clear but we do not like them. Sometimes, though, the consequences are unclear. In either case, it can make coming to a solution difficult.

The consequences of the tough issue facing the church in this case are made clear for us by Peter in verses 7-11. There was a danger of sinning against God by tempting Him (verse 10). Peter says that God has already spoken in this case. He has already made it clear that all, both Jew and Gentile are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and not through the yoke of the law. James followed that with his statement in verse 19, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

b. Particularly tough issues demand action by the body (Acts 15:22-23, 30-33). Now it would have been easy for Peter and James to have simply dictated to the people the proper action. They had apostolic and pastoral authority to which they could have appealed. Paul also by reason of his apostolic call from God with Barnabas also could have bypassed the other apostles and the church in Jerusalem and simply done whatever it was that they wanted. They were after all both prophets (Acts 13:1-4). The church at Antioch could have declared its independence of the church of Jerusalem and kicked the troublemakers out. None of these things happened.

i. First, the church of Antioch chose to consult with the apostles and elders of Jerusalem (15:2). There was mutual accountability that went beyond apostolic authority. Paul in Galatians 1-2 makes it clear that his authority was equal to that of the original apostles. What we have here is an understanding that we as churches are accountable to each other.

ii. Secondly, the view point of other believers within the body was heard (15:5). For fifteen years there had been no doctrinal controversy within the church. There had been many changes. Now the problem arose and within the body there were believers (not outsiders) who wanted to require circumcision for Gentile and Jew alike. Rather than attacking the people, the leaders met together for serious consideration of the issue.

iii. Third, considerable time was given to consider the truth. God could have given them a revelation at the time to settle the matter but He did not. He allowed the body of Christ to function through the guidance of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Peter, recounted the story of Cornelius which was well known but was important to the issue. Paul and Barnabas then recounted according to verse 12 how that God had worked in the Gentiles in Asia Minor similarly to how He had worked in Cornelius’ situation. Then James confirmed that this was consistent with the Word of God by quoting Amos and then giving his judgment of how to deal with this problem.

iv. After all this, the leadership and the congregation decided to follow James’ recommendation, sending two of their leaders and prophets to encourage the church of Antioch in their carrying out the requirements given. Notice that both congregations acted within their own membership and in their relationship to each other as the body of Christ. They did not act as a democracy. A physical body is not a democracy and neither is the body of Christ. Neither, however, did the leadership as a whole act as a dictatorship. You see, the apostles and elders and prophets and other leaders are not the head of the church. Christ is the head. They function merely as a part of the body. Both extremes much be avoided. We are not a democracy nor a monarchy but rather a body under the headship of Christ and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That is why these two churches and their leaders acted with common sense and that is what we should seek to do also.

C. The common sense given by the Holy Spirit teaches us the right balance of boldness and sensitivity (Acts 15:7-12; 20-21; 28-29). This balance comes when we give priority to what the Holy Spirit gives priority to, the truth of the gospel of Christ.

a. Boldness is needed to protect the truth of the gospel (15:7-12). Those who wanted to require circumcision were a powerful group. They continued to plague both the church at Jerusalem as well and Paul throughout the next few years. In fact, Paul recounts for us in Galatians 2 where Peter later lacked the boldness he needed to stand against these very same people. And lest you think that Paul was perfect in this matter, he recounts for us in 2 Corinthians that he was not always as bold as he could have and perhaps should have been. We need, however, to understand that we need to be bold for the gospel of Christ. If we had been as bold for the gospel of Christ as we have been for moral values over the last two hundred or so years, the spiritual landscape of this country might look much differently. We cannot do anything about the past but we can right now at Grace Bible Church make the gospel of Christ our top priority. We can do it and we must do it. It is the priority of God’s Word and it is the priority of the Holy Spirit and it is the priority of Jesus Christ. His gospel must be our priority also.

b. Sensitivity is needed to propagate the truth of the gospel (15:20-21; 28-29). Notice particularly verse 21. The reason given for these requirements is because of unbelieving Jews. James and the church at Jerusalem did not want the gospel to be hindered because of Gentile liberty. Now some of the things in the list are clearly sinful and some are debated even today. The point of this list is that there are certain behaviors both sinful and possibly non-sinful that can hinder the propagation of the gospel of Christ and we need to take that into consideration.

An example of this might be in a Moslem country where to lay a Bible on the ground would be highly offensive to a Moslem. A holy book deserves the respect of the high place. While that may seem silly to us, if we are aware of that, then we will avoid appearing to blaspheme God through careless behavior.

An example that hits much closer to home might be my approach to abortion. I am convinced from Scriptures that we should oppose abortion and in democracy we have the right to oppose abortion. Our opposition though should not blaspheme the gospel. When Christians in their opposition to abortion take on or defend unbiblical actions and attitudes, then they have forgotten the common sense that the Holy Spirit gives to the body.

Are you practicing Holy Spirit given common sense in your decisions, in your life? Let us learn the Word and accountability within the body and witness to the Word of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in those activities that the Holy Spirit teaches us the common sense we need to be the church in this world.

Next Week: Proverbs 30:1-6 “Confidence in Life”

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