Certainty and the Holy Spirit

One of the great certainties offered by the Christian faith is the certainty of the Holy Spirit and his active ministry. Whenever people recite the Apostles’ Creed they affirm their belief in the Holy Spirit of God. The New Testament testifies repeatedly to the role of the Spirit in accomplishing the good work of salvation.

For example, in Ephesians chapter one we are told that believers are chosen by God the Father (v.4), redeemed by God the Son (v. 7), and sealed by the Holy Spirit (v. 13). “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance . . . .” (vv. 13-14).

If someone asks, “How do I know the Holy Spirit is living in me?” a simple response might be, by the same way you know there is music on your digital playlist. You cannot see the music, but you can believe the message on your screen that there is music in your smart phone. A second way you can know is by playing the music and hearing it.

We can know the Holy Spirit works for us and in us because of the words of scripture. We believe in the Holy Spirit as we exercise faith in the promises of God’s Word. In addition, we may experience the benefits of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as we prayerfully trust him to guide, instruct, comfort and strengthen us, as our Lord Jesus promised that the Spirit would do.

That is what had happened to the people to whom Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Acts 19 gives the history. The people of Ephesus had not even heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-2). Paul stayed there and taught boldly in the Jewish synagogue for three months (v. 8). Then he moved to a lecture hall and continued his ministry in Ephesus for two more years (v. 9). From that base the entire region was evangelized (v. 10). “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (v. 20). Through the teaching and miracles they observed, the people came to understand and experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit (v. 6).

To these people Paul wrote, “you heard the message of truth” (Ephesians 1:13). “You believed” the gospel. When that happened you were “included in Christ” and “marked with a seal,” a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The object of their belief was the message of the cross where the Lord Jesus shed his blood to secure the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7). The confirmation of their belief was the Holy Spirit.

Paul used the familiar imagery of a seal to illustrate the Holy Spirit because in the ancient world a seal was a mark of ownership, identification, and authenticity. It may be compared to the computer chip embedded in your passport. The chip can be read by a scanner at U.S. Customs portal when you reenter the country from overseas. It identifies you as a citizen of the United States.

The Holy Spirit in the believer is God’s way of validating and confirming the believer’s identity in Christ. The discovery of the DNA molecule led to ways for scientists to prove physical identity. DNA carries genetic information that sets individuals apart from each other and can prove their association in families. This illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit in establishing and sealing an individual in the spiritual family of God.

In Romans 8:9 we are given  a test of whether a person is a real Christian or not. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ , they do not belong to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 recommends that we examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. Here is a simple self-examination, based on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. It is intended to give certainty, not to foster doubt and anxiety.

Ask yourself, do I believe the gospel of Christ (Titus 3:5-7)? Have I experienced the guidance, assurance and encouragement of the Holy Spirit through the promises in the Bible (Ephesians 1:17-19, 3:16-17)? Do I have love for others, and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Do I regularly fellowship with God in prayer (Romans 8:26-27)? Do I love God’s word and is its truth clear to me (John 16:13-15)? Do I seek to live in a way that pleases the Lord (Ephesians 4:17-30)?

If these things are true in your life it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. If this is not a description of your life, but you want it to be, that may indicate the Holy Spirit is drawing you to surrender yourself in faith to Jesus. He offers certainty of a new life. “The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Peace and Contentment

The New Testament offers certainty for uncertain times. I spoke recently with a friend who has received a diagnosis from his physician that he has a dangerous, life-threatening disease. For most of us, news like this might be a source of anxiety, but he spoke about it with composure and trust in God. How could he respond this way? I believe it was the peace of God.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reported that he had been disappointed by the recent events of his life. He had been unjustly imprisoned for his faith. He had been disappointed by people who had caused him trouble. He also knew what it felt like to be in need of material necessities. Yet he wrote to his friends in Philippi with a sense of peace and contentment.

If there is anything we need in these uncertain times it is peace and contentment, a peace and contentment that come from God. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). “The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).

The peace of God is not a spiritual marshmallow pillow. It is the New Testament equivalent of the strong Hebrew word shalom, which means emotional wholeness, security and maturity. The “peace of God” (v.7) is linked to a relationship with the “God of peace” (v. 9). It is a result of the Lord’s presence with his people: “The Lord is near” (v.5).

Peace is an outcome of prayer, honest and thankful prayer. In a time of trouble and stress we may be tempted to curl up in a corner complaining about our circumstances, full of anxiety and self-pity. Paul offers an alternative. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). The promise of scripture is that if we make prayer an habitual response, God’s peace will stand guard over our emotions and our minds (v. 7).

The same is true of contentment. Paul said this is a learned response. “I have learned the secret of being content,” he said in verse 11. He said he had experienced both prosperity and poverty. He had learned to overcome anxiety about material things. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13).

Some people never learn contentment. Never satisfied, they have an abundance of everything and still they complain. They seem always to look for  bigger and better toys. They pay rent on storage sheds that are larger than the houses of the poor in the developing world. Of course the advertising and marketing industries fuel this dissatisfaction.

Paul said he had more than enough and he was content with what the Lord had provided. “I am amply supplied,” he wrote (v. 18). He could say this because he had entrusted every part of his life — including his daily need for food, shelter, clothing and health — to Christ. In every situation the Lord helped him maintain a contented frame of mind.

What do we learn from this? How can we enjoy peace and contentment? First, like Paul, we must make a decision not to be greedy or selfish. In Acts 20:33 Paul reviewed the example of his ministry: “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.” He had made a decision to be “free from the love of money” or material things (Hebrews 13:5). So should we.

Second, Paul’s initial decision was followed by a disciplined mind. Like him, we may train our minds to think correctly about what is excellent and constructive, not what is doubtful and destructive. “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

One of the dangers of our addiction to the entertainment media is that we become passive receptors, not active thinkers. The Lord wants us to use our minds the right way. When we ponder, analyze and carefully reflect on God’s truth, we are promised God’s peace and the assurance of his presence. In my years of pastoral ministry, I have seen this demonstrated over and over again in the lives of the Lord’s people as they have faced the troubles of life.

Third, we must learn to trust God in prayer for our daily needs. Jesus meant it when he gave us permission to ask our Heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That was the prayerful lifestyle the apostle Paul had cultivated. The result for him was peace and contentment. It can be the same for you and me as we talk to God about our problems and needs.

This is a certainty for an uncertain time.

Pastor Randy Faulkner



The Certainty of God’s Love

The past year has been stressful and uncertain for many Americans. New variants of the COVID-19 virus still threaten the population. A significant percentage of people remain suspicious and fearful of the vaccine. We hear sad reports of young people who are depressed and suicidal. Businesses have closed for good. Millions of people have lost their jobs.

In these uncertain times, I want to turn readers’ attention to themes and promises of which we may be certain. It is possible to maintain a sense of calm confidence in the middle of this perfect storm of economic disruption, health crises, and social change.

This is not escapism or a state of denial. The problems are real. But so are the promises of God. It is by keeping our focus on him that we maintain stability as we live in this present world in this present time.

This leads me to recommend the writings of the apostle John. John is an apostle of certainty. {Count the number of times he repeats the word “know” in his first letter.) In 1 John 4:7-21, the knowledge of God leads to the certainty of the love of God for us. In spite of everything, we may be sure of God’s love.

God’s love is on display. God’s nature is love. God is the source of love, the essence of love. “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Holy Trinity is a divine inter-relationship of eternal love. This infinite, glorious and loving God is great, but not remote. He has shared his love with us human beings living on this tiny planet. He “showed his love among us” ( 1 John 4:9).

John circles back to Jesus Christ. God showed his love among us when he “sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Sin results in death and condemnation. Jesus’ sacrificial death results in life for those who believe in him. This is God’s gift of love.

John can write with confidence about this because he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. “We  have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). The Christian faith rests on objective facts which have been verified by the sensory experience of those who were there. These facts are passed along to us by the Lord’s apostles.

He goes further. He says that if we accept this objective testimony about Jesus, God in his grace will send his Holy Spirit to confirm it to us as a subjective witness. “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (1 John 4:15).

This acknowledgement of Jesus is a formal declaration of faith in him. It happens when one says “yes” to the gospel. “This is what I believe.” It is reaffirmed in water baptism as a confession of one’s faith in Christ. It happens again when a Christian explains the faith to another person. In the words of the apostle, it is the declaration that Jesus is “the Savior of the world.” It is the acknowledgement “that Jesus is the Son of God”  and that God sent him (1 John 4:14).

These facts prove God’s love. His love is reliable. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” ( 1 John 4:16). Reliance upon God’s love gives us stability. It anchors us. It completes us. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment” ( 1 John 4:17).

God’s love is the life-force working within individual believers and through the Christian community. It is the vitality of the church. We are called to be loving because God is loving. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

The invisible God is made visible to a watching world when Christians love one another. Frederick F. Bruce wrote, “The love of God displayed in his people is the strongest apologetic that God has in the world.” It is the love of God, costly love, practical love, visible love, serving love, forgiving love, which makes the gospel believable to our neighbors.

“God is love” (1 John 4:16). This is a great certainty for uncertain times.

Pastor Randy Faulkner





Preach the Word

As a student in a Christian college I looked forward to the week of the annual Bible conference. Classes were suspended as we heard some of the nation’s leading Bible teachers expound the scriptures. My heart was warmed.  I remember thinking to myself, “That truth was there all the time. Why didn’t I see it?” Those gifted teachers made plain to us students what the holy scriptures were saying. This was soul-satisfying.

This was further reinforced during my student years as I was employed during the summers at World of Life camps and conference center in New York. I was privileged to hear outstanding Bible teaching there too. Those speakers were, like Apollos, “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24). I was developing the conviction that if I should ever become a preacher, then I must be an expository preacher.

The most significant encouragement in this direction during my seminary training came not from courses on preaching, but from my Greek professor, David Winget, who taught principles of biblical exegesis. Exegesis is the discovery of what the biblical text says and means (preferably from the original languages of the Bible). He demonstrated that sound exegesis is the foundation for a ministry of expository preaching.

Expository preaching seeks to explain the text of scripture in such a way as to help listeners understand its meaning and make relevant application of its truths to their lives. The authority in this communication rests within the divinely-inspired biblical text, not with the preacher.

I have had the high honor of serving as pastor of two great churches, Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, and Metropolitan Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. In each place I was preceded by well-known pastors who were faithful and effective expository preachers.

The people of these congregations were wise enough, kind enough and mature enough not to expect me to fill the shoes of my esteemed predecessors. Instead, they encouraged me to be myself. They knew that I aspired to faithfully and systematically teach the Word of God. That was what they wanted. They had been nourished by sound Bible teaching in the past and they appreciated the fact that that was what I wanted to continue to do, by God’s grace.

In his book The Living Church John Stott wrote, “We do not occupy the pulpit in order to preach ourselves, broadcast our theories or ventilate our opinions. No! Our understanding of preaching is that it is essentially an exposition of the Word of God. In this sense, all Christian preaching is ‘expository’ preaching . . .  in the broad sense (it opens up a biblical text).”

He went on to say that biblical exposition is like building a bridge from the ancient biblical world to our contemporary setting. That bridge aims to cross a cultural divide of over two thousand years. “Authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be both faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context.”

The famous nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon told young preachers, “I am sure that no preaching will last so long, or build up a church so well, as the expository. . . . I cannot too earnestly assure you that, if your ministries are to be lastingly useful, you must be expositors.”

So you will not be not surprised to read here that I believe that people need expository preaching Sunday after Sunday, from pastors whose hearts burn within them with passion for the truth of God’s Word. Here are some reasons why I say that.

!. The Sunday morning preaching event is the single most important moment in the life of any congregation. I use the word “moment” advisedly. The preaching of the Word of God is momentous! It centers the gathered congregation on God’s revelation of himself and his will for our lives.  It unifies the congregation  around a shared commitment to God’s revealed truth.

2. The Bible is truthful and trustworthy in all that it affirms. It is an infallible guide to a Christian’s belief and conduct. Expository preaching provides reliable instruction in what we are to believe and how we are to live to be pleasing to God.

3. Anything less than the healthy food of God’s word will leave people spiritually undernourished. It is both “milk” for infants in the faith, and “adult food” (“meat”) for the spiritually mature. Therapeutic pop psychology or social commentary cannot feed hungry souls. Without the teaching of the Bible, God’s people cannot grow spiritually.

4. The Bible is relevant for all peoples, all cultures, all times and all places. Wherever it has gone, the Bible has elevated civilizations, and advanced the progress of cultures. This is true in the local church. The preacher’s task is not to make the Bible relevant, but to show the Bible’s relevance to our lives, guided by the Holy Spirit.

5. The teaching of scripture leads people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminded young Timothy that the holy scriptures were able to make him “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). Jesus had told his disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”(John 20:29). How would those who had not seen Jesus in person come to believe in him? It would be through the witness of those first-century apostles (John 17:20)! Their writings about Jesus became the New Testament scriptures. The scriptures proclaim the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For these reasons, and others, throughout my pastoral ministry I made a priority of the study and teaching of the Bible. I wanted to be like Ezra, who “devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Like Paul, I aspired to obey “the commission God gave me to present . . . the word of God in its fullness” (Colossians 1:27).

One of the prominent Bible expositors I heard during my student years was Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whose recorded messages, long after his death, are now still heard on the “Thru the Bible Radio Ministry.” I remember a message he gave for the commencement ceremonies when my brother Steve graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. It was based on the famous text which was the seminary motto: “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

During his talk he must have repeated that theme more than twenty times! I was reminded of the sacred privilege and solemn responsibility of my calling. I was both humbled and energized. And frankly, I couldn’t wait for the next great opportunity that would be mine to “preach the word!”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

He Also Carried the Cross

He was on his way into the city from where he had been staying. His mind was preoccupied with plans for the day. As he rounded a corner, he unexpectedly found himself caught up in a crowd of spectators on their way to watch an execution outside the city wall. Suddenly Simon was conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for one of the condemned men. He had no choice but to obey. The soldiers placed the heavy cross beam on his shoulders.

This story from the gospel of Mark omits details such as Simon’s history, thoughts, and appearance. It does tell us he was from Cyrene, which was in North Africa. Since this was the time of the Jewish Passover, it is likely that he was a pilgrim in Jerusalem for the festival. He must have appeared to be a strong man, capable of carrying the load. But there is much more that we would like to know.

We do know what Simon saw. He saw the man Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, his face swollen and disfigured, his back raw and torn from a cruel flogging. He had fallen to the pavement in weakness. The journey to skull hill was about a mile from the place of his trial and sentencing and he was  exhausted from a sleepless night and the savage beatings had had already endured.

Simon saw religious leaders proceeding to the execution, clad in their vestments, prompting mockers who shouted derisive insults at Jesus. He saw huddled groups of mourners, women who bravely followed, and did not forsake Jesus in his last hours. He saw two condemned criminals also carrying the instruments of their death, as was the Roman custom. He saw a gathering morning crowd, at first awakened by curiosity, then revolted by the shocking scene before them.

If Simon had arrived one hour sooner or one hour later, he probably would have missed this interruption in his day. Was this an accident? Or was it providence that brought him to this exact time and place in history? What was the outcome for Simon?

Mark 15:21 says that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. He includes this detail because these two were well known to the Christian community for whom he was writing his gospel. In Romans 16:13 the apostle Paul salutes Rufus who was a member of the Christian assembly in Rome. Does this mean that Simon from Cyrene became a believer in Jesus and that he influenced his family to believe?

Acts 13:1 names leaders of the church in Antioch. One of them was Simon who was also called “Niger.” Was this the same Simon? Was he among the Christian men who migrated north to Syria from Jerusalem because of persecution? Acts 11:20 says some of them were from Cyrene. If he was among them, he became a strong witness who proclaimed the gospel to Gentiles and helped establish the great church in Antioch. We cannot be certain, but it is possible that Simon the teacher in Antioch was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus.

Did he remain at Calvary as the Lord was dying? Did he hear the Savior’s last words from the cross? Did he become a believer on Good Friday or later, with the thousands who believed through the preaching of the apostles? Surely he never forgot his part in the trauma and sorrow of that day when the Lord was crucified. If indeed he believed, as seems likely, then bitter experience resulted in eternal blessing for Simon and his family.

Pastor Randy Faulkner