The Burning Passion
of the New Testament
The apostles were men whose burning passion was the message of God's redemptive acts in Jesus Christ. They turned the world upside down with the preaching of the gospel, not by running around telling people about their exciting religious experiences.
Can you imagine the apostle Peter standing up on the day of Pentecost and declaring, "Friends, I want to tell you about the marvelous experience we had this morning when we were baptized in the Holy Spirit. I felt a great sensation of peace right down to the balls of my feet..."
Can you imagine one of the Marys
adding her glowing testimony, "I want to tell you what a thrill it is to speak with
tongues. All the joys of my life were blended together in one ecstatic moment—the
fun of childhood, the excitement of my first date, the exultation of the finished
sex longing. . ." Ridiculous! This plain fact stands out in Holy Writ:
Spirit-filled people were so preoccupied with the message of their crucified,
risen and ascended
Lord that they made scarcely any reference to their own experience. Their experience,
of course, was real and genuine. It was the experience of being caught up in
and identified with the Christ event.
Luke is the New Testament writer
who makes frequent references to people who were "filled with the Holy
Spirit." When Zacharias was "filled
with the Holy Ghost" (Luke 1:67), he opened his mouth and proclaimed
God's redemptive works. When the praying disciples were "all filled
with the Holy Ghost," Luke very pointedly adds, “…and
they spake the Word of God with boldness…. And with great power gave
the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Acts.
This pinpoints the vital difference between the Holy Spirit's illumination
and religious mysticism. When the Spirit is poured out, something is said.
something is felt. The one bears testimony to the objective message of
God's redemptive activity on behalf of His people. The other bears testimony
some subjective happening.
The Nature of the Gospel
We have said that the burning passion
of the apostles was the gospel – the
good news about the Christ event. The gospel is something historical and
objective. This we must never forget.
When people believe the gospel and
become preoccupied with God's marvelous work for them in Jesus Christ, it
certainly brings them a new experience.
It radically changes them, regenerates, and sanctifies them to a new sort
altogether. All this is the fruit of the gospel. But it is not the
gospel. The greatest treachery takes place when men take what should be
of the gospel and make it the gospel. It is like using God's gift of grace
rob Him of His glory. The New Testament order is:
(Gospel over Experience)
and it is grave heresy to place
(Experience over Gospel).
If the gospel does
not hold first place, it holds no place. Paul's greatest difficulty was with
people and churches who were continually inclined to place
the gospel in a subordinate role to their own religious experiences. See it
in the church at Corinth. What was the issue? Some of the Corinthians were
becoming so preoccupied with their spiritual gifts that they were forgetting
the gospel. So Paul had to say to them:
brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you,
which also ye
have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved,
if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,
how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and
that He was buried,
and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.1
is not so hard to reconstruct what was happening at Corinth, Galatia, and
that the believers there faced identical temptations
False teachers came among the believers, saying, "Paul brought
you the gospel. That is fine – just what is needed to start the
Christian life. Now you must go on and rise higher. We bring to you
the secret of the deeper
life, the full gospel, the real secret of victorious living." This
was the great heresy of the New Testament church. It was the heresy
the gospel to something that has great significance at the time of
Christian initiation; but after that believers were supposed to go
on to higher things.
had to contend with the same sort of mentality in his day. The enthusiasts
to admit that Luther made a good start
with the doctrine
of justification through faith in God's work in Jesus Christ. But,
Rodman Williams of today,1 they felt that the great Reformer was
very deficient in his doctrine of the Holy Spirit's work in human lives.
Wishing to go
beyond justification by grace, the radical evangelicals cried, "The
Spirit, the Spirit!" The center of their interest was God's
work in the human heart, but tragically, like all those who make
this the center of their message; they
could not see anything higher than their own spiritual navels.
the mentality of heresy when he described how people were constantly inclined
to put the gospel behind them:
One must not surely stay forever with the same matter, but continue
and progress [say the sects]. Dear people, you have now heard
the self same
so long a time; you must rise higher. — What Luther Says (St.
Louis: Concordia), Vol.3, p.1268.
The Relation of Gospel and Holy Spirit
As church history
has amply demonstrated, nothing threatens the supremacy of the gospel as
much as a false preoccupation with the Holy Spirit.
It is therefore
urgent that we understand the true role of the Holy Spirit in human redemption.
We must therefore address ourselves to this vital question: What is the
relationship between the Christ event and the Holy Spirit's work
The answer is clearly
given in the words of our Lord:
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
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 16:13-14.
As Christ came into
this world to manifest (to reveal, to exegete, to expound) the Father (John
1:18; 14:9), so the Holy Spirit comes
to reveal, to exegete,
to expound the glory of Christ's Person and work. Concerning God's
work for us in Christ, the apostle Paul declares:
hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of
man, the things which God hath prepared for them
Him. But God
them unto us by His Spirit….Now we have received,
not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is
of God; that we might know the things that are
freely given to us of God. 1 Cor. 2:9-10, 12.
No one could comprehend the significance of the Christ event
without the ministry of the Holy
Spirit, who comes to us (because of Christ's atonement) with no modified energy
but with fullness of divine power. Nothing
less than Pentecost is needed to see what Christ has done for us. This fact
is clear from the New Testament record. No gospel sermon was preached until
Pentecost. Why? It was not until Pentecost that the real significance of the
Christ event dawned upon the disciples. It was Pentecost which gave to the
disciples that illumination into Christ's Person and work. Not until Pentecost
did they fully realize that they had actually been living in the presence of
the Lord of glory. By the gift of the Spirit they were lost in the awesome
wonder of the Incarnation, and they could talk of nothing else.
We also need the Holy Spirit to
see what the disciples saw in the Christ event. Then we will know that the
human mind can contemplate nothing
God Himself made
a visit to this planet in the Person of His Son. It was the Creator of heaven
and earth who
was born in that donkey's feed box. It was
the Lord of glory who was wrapped in those swaddling clothes. He who owned
the cattle on a thousand hills had not where to lay His head. It was the Judge
of all who was arrested at midnight by sinful men and arraigned before corrupt
courts where He was abused, spat on and bruised by unfeeling men. The Judge
of all became the judged of all. The vile rabble judged Him worthy of death – not
a decent death, but the cruelest, most shameful kind of execution reserved
for those regarded as the scum of the earth. He was treated as a snake, a venomous
serpent fit only to be crushed and cast out of human society. Thus He became
the antitype of the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14).
See Him suspended between earth and heaven as that forsaken, cursed Man. Lifted
up from earth because earth had refused Him. But not only earth, for heaven
also numbered Him with the transgressors. God laid our sins upon Him and treated
Him as we deserve.
When Jesus Christ was crucified,
The darkness hid His face;
Forsaken there by God and man, He took the sinner's place.
Transgressors cannot dwell with God, They have no ray of light;
So Christ saw not the Father's face, Only eternal night.
Having borne our sins and suffered
their consequences, Christ rose from the dead, triumphed over death and ascended
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory. 1 Tim. 3:16.
As we survey God's
awesome act of atonement in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us faith
by hearing the
message of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
As John Calvin
said, "Faith is the principal work of the Holy Spirit." —
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, p. 541. Faith
is the eye of the
soul that sees our identity with Jesus Christ. Namely:
He became our Man.
He took our human nature upon His divine nature. He was our Representative.
Just as we were
united to Adam, our first
in Adam when he sinned (and were made sinners by his act of disobedience—
Rom. 5:18-19), so it is faith that enables us to see ourselves in
Jesus Christ. The good news is not only that He lived, died and rose
for us, but
as believers before God, we were in Christ when He lived, died, rose,
and ascended to glory. It was actually our human nature that lived
life in Jesus
Christ 2,000 years ago. It was our humanity which was punished, slain
and buried in Joseph's new tomb. And when Christ rose from the dead
glory, we rose in Him and were made to sit down on the right hand
of God's favor with Him (Eph. 2:5,6). In Christ, God purged us, perfected
took us to the throne of glory. The good news is that we have been
in Jesus Christ and taken into perfect fellowship with God. The good
news is not, "Be patient, God is not finished with me yet," but
it is the message that God has finished with us in Jesus Christ,
for "ye are complete
in Him." Col. 2:10.
We say again that
the Spirit's chief work is to give us faith – faith
which comes by the Spirit's exegesis of the Christ event. Faith
is the eye of the soul that can see nothing but the glory of Jesus Christ.
Like the eye,
it cannot see itself. New Testament faith is not faith in our experience – it
is not faith in our new birth; it is not faith in our commitment
and surrender; it is not even faith in our faith. It is faith in
Christ's Person and work.
When Paul reaches his glorious climax in presenting His gospel thesis to the
Romans, he challenges tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness,
peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present and
things to come to condemn or separate him from the love of God which is in
Christ Jesus. Upon what was Paul's confidence based? On his Spirit-filled life
(for Romans 8 is the great chapter on the Spirit-filled life)? Does Paul encourage
himself by thinking of his new birth, his Spirit-filled ministry or great missionary
experiences? No! His Spirit-filled life may rightly be called a faith-filled
life. Faith in what?
Who is he that condemneth?
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who
is even at the right hand of
God, who also maketh intercession for
us. Rom. 8:34.
See how the foundation of the apostle's confidence is completely objective.
It is based wholly on historical, gospel verities.
Christ event and the coming of the Holy Spirit – here are the two
great themes that must be correctly related. These must not be seen
as two focal points which compete for our attention. The New
Testament knows of one
focal point – the Christ event. The Spirit comes to unfold and
exegete the significance of that to us.
therefore must state that the burning passion of the current
lacks the New Testament evidence of the
Holy Spirit's work. Instead
preoccupied with Christ's Person and work as were the apostles and
Reformers, the current religious scene is preoccupied with religious
This is a very serious observation, but most of the current religious
literature must be thus judged on its own testimony. "Out of
the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."
Wherever the Spirit is poured out, there you will find men and women
preoccupied with the gospel—Christ our Representative, Christ our
the Surety of the better covenant, Christ our high-priestly Intercessor
right hand of God, Christ guiding the affairs of human history toward
the day of His coming in glory. We say again that where God's people
with Christ, there is the true evidence of the Holy Spirit.
Rodman Williams, The Pentecostal Reality (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos