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Scriptural Christianity - A Devotional Paraphrase

(Sermon 4 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley)
By: Michael Roberts

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” Acts 2:4

When Pentecost came, they were all in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like as of a rushing mighty wind. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and all began to speak to others in ways that they could understand and hear of the wonderful works of God through Jesus Christ. This is the great event that sparked the birth of the Church.

That story is found in Acts 2. In Acts 4, we hear a similar story. The disciples had been praying and praising God and again they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, it is worth noting, that in these great events there is no mention of other extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in unknown tongues (See I Cor 12). Even in the early church, God gave these manifestations of the Spirit with a sparing hand. As Paul asked, were all prophets? Had all the gifts of healing? Did all speak in tongues? Perhaps not one in a thousand. So here is the point. It is for a much greater purpose than these works that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit comes, all disciples are given the one thing essential in all ages and that is “the indwelling of Christ and the holy fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and temperance (Gal 5:22-24). By the Spirit, an inward transformation comes so that outwardly we are able to walk with Christ in “the work of faith, in the patience of hope, and in the labor of love.” (I Thess 1:3). That is the heart of our faith – not a set of opinions, not a system of doctrine, not the manifestation of extraordinary powers, not speculation about the future or what abilities are required – all of these concerns can distract us from what is truly important. At the core of our faith is a change that happens in hearts and lives, beginning in individuals and then spreading from one to another.

Imagine one person being touched to the heart by the Apostle Peter preaching at Pentecost. Imagine this one being convicted of sin, repenting, and believing in Jesus. How does the scriptures describe this personal event? It is being able to say, even in an initial way, “Christ now lives in me and the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 see also Rom 8:15-15, I Cor 12:3). In this relationship is peace, the peace that passes all human understanding. In this peace, we are no longer afraid to live or to die, for we now live in a love that is stronger than even the power of death. (Phil 1:23). In Christ, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves and able to live from an eternal perspective. We are able to say, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called children of God.” (I John 3:1).

Secondly, this love always comes to us on its way to someone else. If we try to hoard it or keep it to ourselves, it will grow as stale as old bread. This love grows as it is shared. “We love because God first loved us” (I John 4:19). The great miracle is how this love opens our soul to every other soul, even those we might deem as “evil” or as “enemies.” As our hearts are pierced and God’s love gets in, we begin to see all souls as those for whom Christ died. In the mystery of faith, we even start to pray for them and give them a special place in our hearts. That’s what the Spirit does.

Imagine even a few who know this love and what they might do as they see the true condition of the world before them? How could they not be moved at the many sights of misery? Would they not pour their hearts into the work of “plucking some of these brands out of the burning?” Would they not spare no pains to bring back “poor sheep that had gone astray to the great Shepherd?” (I Pet 2:25). Would they not labor to do good to all before them?” (Gal 6:10).

At the heart of true Christianity is nothing other than love. This is what spreads from one soul to another. This is God’s design for the church, not to indoctrinate or create systems for “us” against “them,” not to come together for comfortable conversation and fellowship with no challenge that might pierce the heart even more. Our calling is to love with a love that is not “puffed up,” that never insists on its own way, that is patience and kind, gentle and temperate in all things, always seeking what is good for the other. (See I Cor 13). This love saves us from passion and pride, from lust and vanity, from every temper that is not in Christ. This love is at the heart of scriptural Christianity, not doctrine or creed or polity or program. This love grows into the world through us – one soul to another.

This may sound all sweet and nice, warm and fuzzy, this talk of love. But make no mistake, as the movement grew so did the offenses. Many were moved even to persecute the movement. Especially those in power, in both government and religion, were greatly offended. Their worldview and places of privilege were being challenged. The disciples were “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6). But as the pillars of hell were shaken, the kingdom of God spread more and more. Sinners everywhere turned from darkness to light.

To grow in this love we must be “watered of God,” to use an old phrase. This nourishment and cultivation – this “watering” -- happens in community. It happens as we attend to the ordinances of God, the ordinary channels of God’s grace, the methods of Methodism: “in the Apostle’s doctrine,” in “receiving that food of the soul with all readiness of heart through worship and the reading of scriptures,” “in the breaking of bread,” and “in the prayers and praises offered up by the congregation.” This is how we grow in grace, increase in strength, and in the knowledge and love of God.

So, let us see the vision of the prophets of old, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, where nation shall not rise up against nation and war shall be no more. Imagine the earth, full of the knowledge of the Lord. (Is 11:6-9). That’s the vision of what is before us, a vision of the very kingdom of God. As this kingdom “gets inside,” it transforms us from one degree of glory to another. (2 Cor 3:18). We begin to imagine peace, where no harm comes to our neighbors and no oppression “grinds the face of the poor.” We begin to live in the eternal love of God as revealed in Christ our Lord. That is the vision at the heart of true, scriptural Christianity.

Now let me speak plainly. Does this kind of Christianity exist here? Are we among those filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing the true fruits of the Holy Spirit? Do we let other theological matters distract us from this core purpose? Who among us is willing to work for a continual revival of this Spirit? Are you willing to count your fortune, your liberty, your life to be an instrument of this work?

Lord, take us out of the mire that we not sink! May the Holy Spirit come -- to me, to you, to others through us, filling us all with the love that is truly at the heart of all faith. Keep us from distraction. Keep us attuned to the gospel. Keep our heart in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen