Tonight I want us to consider the outcome, or some outcomes to encountering God. I want us to look at the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So we're turning to Ephesians chapter 4 - I'm a very dry preacher, so they've left me a bottle! Most of the time you get a cup, but I got a bottle! Ephesians 4 verses 7 and 8 - we'll be looking at other scriptures, but we'll just use these as a launching pad for the subject tonight. Ephesians 4:7-8: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men'".
Let us pray - and as I've invited you on previous nights, do pray for yourself that God will speak to you. Pray for me. Pray for one another - but I would ask that you would specifically pray for your own heart, that God might communicate to you. Make sure you have an open heart. Some of you may have preconceived ideas about this subject, you may have your own theology, and I have mine - and have had different types over the years - but you need to come before the Lord with an open heart and an open mind. There's nothing wrong with that, I trust you believe that - just come and ask the Lord to speak to you, and maybe, just perhaps, there might be something for you to learn this evening. I'm always learning, continually learning - so come with an open heart to the Lord now, and let us practice the presence of God as we've been thinking about. We've already sensed Him with us, but let's come present to the presence of God, and by faith enter in deeper and further into His great manifest presence that He wants to just let loose upon us tonight in this place.
Heavenly Father, dear Father, Abba Father, we come to You in that all-victorious glorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can echo Wesley's sentiment when he says: 'O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace!'. Thank You for those in the meeting tonight that can say, and even from last evening can testify: 'Jesus, the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease; 'tis music to the sinner's ears, 'tis life and health and peace'. We thank You, Father, for the completeness of the Gospel message, we thank You for full salvation, we thank You that there is nothing that we need that has not been purchased for us through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus, and that we can know now by the power of His resurrection and the outpouring of His Spirit at Pentecost. Thank You, Lord - and yet, Lord, we don't want to be in the realms of conception tonight regarding these truths, but we want to come into the experience of them. Lord, we want to encounter God, we say to You tonight collectively and individually: Lord, we want all that You have for us, we want all that our redemption has bought for us, we want everything that is in heaven with our name on it and with the promises of God toward us, which are 'Yes and Amen' in our Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, we ask that You will rebuke the enemy tonight, that you will cut off the influence of principalities and powers and ungodly dark spirits in this place. We say to them just now: 'The Lord rebuke you, we overcome you by the blood of the Lamb, and by the confession of what the blood of the Lamb does for us'. Lord, we pray that Your victory, O Lord, that Your victory would prevail tonight, and people would be set free from bondages, and enter into Canaan land, and go deeper with God than they have ever done before. Lord, we want You to do things tonight, we want there to be signs following the preaching of the Word, we want there to be that apostolic experience, where it says that: 'They went forth, the Lord working with them, confirming the Word with signs following'. So come Lord, we invite You, we say from our heart: come Holy Spirit, come Lord Jesus. We welcome You, we invite You into our lives, to this place, to have Your way, to do what You will. For the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
The picture that Paul gives us here in Ephesians chapter 4, of course he's quoting the Psalms, but the picture is of a military leader returning home at the head of his army after routing enemy troops, after a great triumph and victory, and he has taken many prisoners in his train. As he entered his home town, the victory is celebrated, there's a great welcome. Then the commander-in-chief, if you like, he shares his spoils of battle with his own people - he gives gifts as tokens of his victory. This, of course, is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ - having been crucified for our sins, according to the Scriptures, buried, risen again the third day, according to the Scriptures, and ascended on high, the great angelic throng welcomed Him: 'Lift up your heads, O you gates! Be lifted up, you everlasting doors! For the King of glory shall come in'. You know, when the Lord Jesus returned to Heaven after the triumph of Calvary and the empty tomb, the Bible says He spoiled principalities and powers, He stripped the enemy of his kingdom power, the kingdom of darkness, but also He distributed gifts to His own people.
What a wonderful picture it is, isn't it? In John 7, and I quoted this on Wednesday evening, Jesus said: ''He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'. But this He spoke', John comments, 'concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified'. But now that He has led captivity captive, He has given gifts to men, the Holy Spirit has been poured out at Pentecost, and He has shared the tokens of His triumph with the church. Indeed, in John 14:12 the Lord Jesus said: 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father'. He has gone to His Father, so the great works of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit can be known and seen among men. Isn't it wonderful? All because of the victory of Calvary, all because of the blood of the Lamb - it's because of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Some people criticise preaching on the Holy Spirit, and they say: 'You should be talking about Christ! You should be Christocentric' - Christ-centred. Yes you should, and we are, I hope, in these meetings shining the spotlight on the Lord Jesus, because it's all about Him, it's all about what He's done, it's all about His glorious triumph - and yet He said that: 'The One I will send of the same kind, another I will send to you, He will testify of Me'. It is impossible to know the witness of Jesus Christ to our minds and our hearts, the witness of Jesus to us and the witness of Christ in us, without the power of the Holy Spirit. We give all glory to Jesus, but we must realise the instrumentality of how His life can be known now in us.
After Pentecost I believe the New Testament teaches that God's presence was manifest to the church in at least two ways. First of all: gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit; and fruit, fruit of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit really are demonstrations of God's power. Power belongs unto God, and these gifts that we will talk about a little bit tonight are demonstrations, indeed manifestations, that God is in the midst of His people. I said on a previous night, I think it was Monday, that it has always been the heartbeat and passion of God to dwell, manifestly so, amongst His people. The fruit of the Spirit, if you like, is God's personality. If the gifts are God's power, fruit is God's personality - or, to put it another way: the gifts are Divine communication, but the fruit of the Spirit is Divine character, God's character in us.
Now, right away it ought to be obvious that Christianity is a supernatural way of life. We have laboured this night after night: it is not our life at all, it cannot be - indeed, it is an utter impossibility to live the Christian life. Many of you perhaps are struggling and failing, because you're trying to do it in your own strength. Paul the apostle said in Galatians 2:20: 'It is not I, but Christ who lives in me'. Some of you might be trying to live the Christian life on your own steam, or some of you - like a steam engine going down the hill - are living your Christianity on old steam. Once the pistons were firing, and the engine was going, but that was a long while away from now - things are different. The only way to live the Christian life is by the life of God Himself in us - Christ in you, the hope of glory! So His power and His character are necessary, His gifts and His fruit - and the tragedy is, I have to say, that evangelicalism, to a large extent, has divorced itself from the supernatural Source of life, the power of the Holy Spirit: His power in the gifts, and God's character in the fruit.
Now let's deal with them tonight. First of all let's look at the gifts. Now there are many gifts in the New Testament, in a sense. In fact, if we were to read further in Ephesians 4 here, you would see that there are what we call 'ministry gifts', and they are people, individuals that are gifted to the church. In verse 11 we read of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers - and Paul tells us in verse 12 that these are gifted to the church by God for the equipping of the saints, for the working of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Note it doesn't say that they're given to do the work of ministry, no, no, no - we've got this all wrong. You see, you think of your pastor: 'We're paying him to do the work'. No, you're not! No, you're not! You're not paying him to do anything, you're supplying his need for being the servant of God - but what he is doing is, he ought to be equipping you (and I know he is) for you to do the works of ministry! That's what this verse says, that these gifted men and at times women were given to the church to equip the saints for them to do the work of ministry, for the edifying or the building up of the body.
So there are these ministry gifts, but there are also what we call 'spiritual gifts'. The Greek term for them is 'charisms', 'grace gifts'. God gives them, severally, as He wills - and there are probably generally thought to be nine of them. Some debate over the number of them, but generally when we look at passages of Scripture like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, there appears to be nine general gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here they are: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts (plural) of healings, workings (plural) of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, different kinds of tongues (plural), and interpretation of tongues. Now, I don't have time to deal with those individually tonight - and I have to say that there is a great deal of confusion, even among circles that believe in these gifts, concerning the definitions of them. We won't be dealing with that in much depth tonight. All I want to highlight this evening is the sad fact that the church of Jesus Christ, that so desperately needs the manifest power and presence of God in the midst, is divided over these gifts - not least, it has to be said, because of the abuse of these gifts in certain circles.
We need to be balanced when we are touching on these, and in certain Pentecostal and extreme charismatic circles there are abuses and aberrant practices in the name of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We do need to exercise caution when dealing with this subject, that there are counterfeit claims being made in the name of the Holy Spirit. There are some very weird manifestations that are going on, that I believe are of another spirit. But even among some circles, at best there is learned behaviour, people see a thing happening and they just copy it in the flesh; and at worst, there can be demonic infiltration in the church. But here's our problem: many evangelicals, because of error, have reacted against it in a pendulum swing and have rejected everything to do with the Holy Spirit, not least these gifts of the Spirit.
I pointed out to you on Wednesday night: Satan only counterfeits the true. Do you understand? Satan only counterfeits truth. So you should not be rejecting these gifts, rather you should be asking: 'Well, there might be false things around, but where is the true?'. Is that the question that you're asking? We would do well to note that Paul wrote two epistles to the Corinthians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and the church at Corinth was - well, we could class them as a very charismatic church, in the right sense. They were highly spiritually gifted, these 'charisms', the gifts of the Spirit, were widely operative - but Corinth was a problematic church. They had these gifts, but we know from reading the books that they were abusing them. They were also in dire need, morally. There was drunkenness around the Lord's Table, there was incest and immorality, they were taking one another to court, and they were starting to doubt the resurrection. But please note: all that was perverse that was going on in Corinth, Paul, when he addresses spiritual gifts, he doesn't even remotely say 'Your gifts are counterfeit'. He doesn't say that. In fact, though they abused these gifts - no doubt about it - Paul actually taught them how to correctly use them, and how to do all things decently and in order.
Do you see the balance of the great apostle? Satan always counterfeits the true. Maybe, as I've said on previous nights, you've throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because of excesses and extremes, and even falsehoods in certain circles, you have reacted wildly against everything to do with the gifts of the Spirit of God. I'll tell you what is obvious to me: there is an absence of Divine power in the church! If the gifts of the Spirit are the demonstration of God's power in the midst of His people, we need to waken up and ask where they are in genuine form! Is it not true that there is in the church a form of godliness denying the power? We need to realise what the apostle said, that the Kingdom of God is not in word but in power. Can I ask you: is it coincidental that this absence of power is often linked to an aversion to the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Is it a coincidence that this absence of power is often linked to a disbelief in the gifts of the Holy Spirit? I think not. We need God's power, the church needs God's power, and the church needs the gifts of the Holy Spirit!
There is no Scripture that says that these gifts are not for the church today. On the contrary, let me show you a number of passages. Turn with me to Acts chapter 2, that great sermon at Pentecost - don't worry, I'm not going to read it all! There's only one verse I want you to note, verse 39 - verse 38: 'Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call''. The promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off - I used to think that was people in Africa, or the North or the South Pole, 'all who are afar off' - that's not what it means. It's not talking geographically, it's talking chronologically, it's saying 'to everyone that is afar off in the future' - this promise is to you and to your children, and to everyone that lies ahead that names the name of Christ, the promise of Pentecost!
What was that? 'I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh', verse 17, 'Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy' - that's the promise to you, to your children, and to all who are afar off. Notice there were no brackets at the end of Peter's statement, there was no caveat to say: 'Now, I just need to warn you that in 150 years the power of the Holy Spirit will all be gone, and you'll have to just wing it on your own after that'. I mean it's nonsensical to suggest such a thing, isn't it? Yet that is what much Christian evangelical doctrine is espousing today. Another passage, 1 Thessalonians 5, we were there last night when we were talking about that promise in verses 23 and 24, that God is able to make you whole and holy - what a wonderful promise! But I want to direct your attention to the preceding verses, verse 19 - and it's the same Paul the apostle, you know - he says in verse 19, this is a command now: 'Do not quench the Spirit', that literally could be translated 'Do not put out the fire of the Spirit'. Look, verse 20: 'Do not despise prophecies'. Can I ask you in the meeting tonight: do you despise prophecies? Verse 21: 'Test all things', we're not to fall for everything and anything, 'Test all things; hold fast what is good' - that presupposes that you'll throw a few things out - 'Hold fast to that which is good', and verse 22, 'Abstain from every form of evil'. You could not remotely say that the apostle Paul here is telling us that we are not meant to be operating in the gifts of the Spirit, in fact to the contrary, he tells us not to despise the moving of the gifts of the Spirit. Test them, yes, throw out what is wrong, but hold on to that which is good. There is something good to be held on to.
Come again with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 14, and of course chapters 12, 13, and 14 deal with these gifts - but we're coming to the closing remarks of Paul to do with these gifts, his parting shot if you like. Verse 39: 'Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy', now watch this, this is another command, 'and do not forbid to speak with tongues', that's a command of the New Testament! Now there are certain regulating factors, if you read these passages, to do with these gifts and others - but, nevertheless, look at what it says: 'Do not forbid to speak with tongues'. Verse 40: 'Let all things be done decently and in order'. What's the New Testament teaching? I'm not asking you what your theology teaches, or what the framework that you have imposed upon Scripture teaches; I'm asking: what does a casual, superficial reading of the Word of God actually say before you poison it with your interpretation? And I've done that for years.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1, and this is a very interesting one, verse 4. Remember, this is a highly gifted church, with these gifts in particular - verse 4, Paul says: 'I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge', that's an allusion, I believe, to these gifts, 'in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you', watch verse 7, 'so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Paul is telling Corinth that the church was to exercise these gifts while it waited for the return of the Lord - is that not what it says? They were to come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of the Lord. Has the Lord come yet? Has He?
Even 1 Corinthians 13, which many have used as a proof text to suggest that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased, 1 Corinthians 13 verse 8 says: 'Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away'. But if you read the context of this passage, you will see that Paul is saying these will not cease until there is perfect knowledge, and we know as we are known. Now I ask you tonight: do you have perfect knowledge? Do you know as God knows you? Of course, it's pointing to that perfect day when we will be with the Lord, we will see Him as He is. Even John Wesley said on this passage itself: 'Paul does not say either that these or any other miracles shall cease till faith and hope shall also cease, till they all be swallowed up in the vision of God, and love be all in all'.
I don't believe there are any scriptures that teach that these gifts are not for the church today. To the contrary, they teach the opposite. Furthermore, contrary to the opinion of some - and it was once mine - there has not been a complete suspension of the operation of these gifts in church history. You see, one objection towards these gifts is: 'Well, the great heroes of the faith down through church history, they didn't need these gifts, they didn't experience these things'. If you study church history, you will find that there is documentary evidence that says the opposite. There is evidence that these gifts were used among the early church fathers. There is evidence that they were used among the saints during the mediaeval era and the Middle Ages, even among groups called the Waldenses and the like. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther commented on the use of these gifts in his own ministry. There were even movements like the French Huguenots, among whom the gifts of the Spirit were evident. During revivalist periods, and through revival preachers, no less than John Wesley that I've already mentioned, Charles Grandison Finney, D.L. Moody, and there is even evidence of the gifts of the Spirit in the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It appears even that the early brethren were yearning, some of them anyway, for the operations of the Spirit in accordance with 1 Corinthians chapter 14. In fact, wherever revival took place, you find the power of God's Spirit in these special gifts.
Now, no doubt it is true that these gifts fell out of use in mainstream Christianity - but the question I ask tonight is: was their falling out of use due to God's will, or was it as a result of coldness in the church? Was it because the administration and rulership of Christ in His church by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit was replaced by man-made tradition, by clergy, by form? I think it was. It also appears that jealousy led some clerical figures to criticise the gifts of the Spirit, because they themselves didn't have them. In fact, John Wesley, in his diary on Wednesday, August 15th 1750, speaking on this subject says: 'The grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them as either madness or imposture'.
Am I saying that we ought to embrace all that is done in the name of the Spirit today? A thousand, yea, a million times: no! That is not what I'm saying. What I am saying tonight, biblically based I believe, is that if we want to encounter God we must be honest with Scripture, we must be honest with church history, and we must be open to everything that God would give us by His Spirit. We cannot encounter His power whilst at the same time resisting the very Source of that power, the Holy Spirit and His gifts. I know that I am on the rocky road, according to some - but all I have to declare tonight, and I'm not defending myself, I don't believe in defending self, but what I do have to declare tonight is: I believe everything the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. I believe everything the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.
The gifts of the Spirit, God's power, or God's Divine communication to the church. Do we need it? Then the fruit of the Spirit - and this is important, because I believe we should have more of an emphasis on the fruit of the Spirit, because character is more important to God than power. I think that's right throughout Scripture, you can see that - you can see it even in the life of characters in the Old Testament, like Samson. God's power came on him, but look at what his character was like. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance, that means He can give gifts and not take them off people, even when their lives go askew. People can use gifts out of the flesh, look at the Corinthians, they were carnal - and yet they were 'charismatic'.
Now, we can ignore the gifts at our own cost, and we must not do that - but we must not exaggerate them at the expense of godly character. Character is important to God, and that's what the fruit of the Spirit is: it's character. It's an indication of the life of God in us. Fruit, of course, is an evidence of root - that the root of the plant is deep down on the ground and is drawing the life and nutrients from the Earth. So, to have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is evidence of the life of God in us. You remember how our Lord said in John 15:16: 'You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you'. It's God's will that we are engrafted into the vine, and that we as a branch draw that sustenance and life from the Lord Jesus and bear much fruit to His glory.
Now the fruit of the Spirit - and again, we'll not be able to deal with these individually in any depth - but they are found in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - verses 22 and 23. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - and interestingly there's nine of them, just as there are nine gifts of the Spirit, there's nine fruit of the Spirit. But you will notice, if you look at verse 22 it says: 'The fruit of the Spirit is' - the fruit of the Spirit is. Please note it doesn't say 'the fruits', plural, 'of the Spirit'. Look at that now, it says 'the fruit', singular, 'of the Spirit'. It also says 'the fruit of the Spirit is', not 'the fruit of the Spirit are'. Now there's nine apparent fruit mentioned here, and yet it says that 'the fruit of the Spirit is', not 'the fruits of the Spirit are'. You say: 'What are you getting at?'. Well, some people have this idea: 'Well, Tom, he's got love; and James, he's got peace; and Joy, well, you know what she's got, she's got joy' - and we think of people having individual characteristics like these, but that's not what God is saying at all. This is one fruit! The fruit of the Spirit, the life of God in us, will produce all these things - because this is fruit. In fact, you could reduce this one word 'fruit' to another one word: 'character' - that's what it is, character.
Do you know something? There are people who go around, and we have to say this, running around talking about 'the gifts of the Spirit', and that God has been doing wonderful things and all the rest - but there's no character there, there's no depth. There are people who want to speak with supernatural tongues, but they won't let the Holy Spirit control their natural tongue. Character! Whose character? Whose character? It's Jesus' character, it's the very character of the Son of God, in-wrought by the Holy Spirit in us, that will be manifest. Turn to 1 Corinthians 13, this great passage on love. You remember that love is the first thing mentioned in the fruit of the Spirit. Some actually would say, and I agree with them, that all the other descriptions of the fruit of the Spirit would come out of that love. So love is the first, but love is birthing these others, for God is love. Here we have in 1 Corinthians 13, look at verse 4: 'Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails'.
Now I want you to do something just now. Go back to verse 4 and replace the word 'love', or 'charity' if it says it in your version, with the word 'Jesus', the name 'Jesus'. Now let's read it again: 'Jesus suffers long' - what a statement! 'Jesus is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade Himself, He is not puffed up; He does not behave rudely, He does not seek His own, He is not provoked, He thinks no evil; He does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails' - hallelujah! Now, go back to verse 4, put your own name in now - all right? Eh? 'David suffers long' - well, that's it, that's it over for me now! I can't suffer, can't even go to the dentist hardly! I haven't much patience - but, you see, this is what's meant to happen. You put your name there: 'David suffers long and is kind; and he loves, is not envious; does not parade himself, isn't puffed up and proud; David does not behave rudely, does not seek his own, is not provoked, does not think evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. David never fails' - what!? You see, the goal of this Gospel that we preach, God's desire is that we should be like Christ - God wants to make us like His own Son! Listen: the only life that ever pleased God was the life of His Son, that's why He rent the heavens and said: 'This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased' - and if you're going to please God, you're going to have to be in Christ, and Christ is going to have to be in you, and it's going to have to be His life that is being manifest. That's the only life that will please the Father!
This is meant to be the Christian experience, listen to 2 Corinthians 3:18, just listen: 'We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord' - this is Christianity! Not 'Read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow, and go to your church, and walk on the clean side of the road, and keep the commandments, and say a prayer before your meal, and keep your nose clean' - friends, this is a supernatural way of life, this is the very life of God! If all you've got tonight are rules and regulations - and wait till I tell you, it's not just the old Pharisees of legalism that have their rules and regulations, there's a modern legalism that is there as well, there's a modern legalism in the more modern churches as well, where you can only do new things, and you have to have gimmicks and new programs. Friends, listen: when the life of God is there you don't need any gimmicks! You don't need entertainment! I love good singing, and we praise God for the gifts that God has given people, and we would do well to use everything that God has given people - we're not in any way pouring cold water on anything that God has given to people - but what we're saying is: we need this supernatural power, and we need this supernatural character, the very life of Jesus.
Now it's fruit, it's not works. I'm not saying works don't have a place in Christianity, but you've got to understand the difference here at least. 'Works' means effort, and mechanics, toil and labour - and the result of work is that you're weary, and you're faint, and you're sometimes frustrated because of how little ground you're making. Work is accompanied by fleshly effort, there is a great display, there is a lot of noise - but fruit isn't like that. Fruit doesn't involve work. You say: 'Oh, well, you would know you weren't a gardener!'. I'm not a gardener - God blessed me with a wife that cuts the grass, isn't that wonderful? I'm not a gardener, I don't know the first thing about it, but I know this much: the gardener is the one that does the work. God's Word says, from the mouth of Christ: 'My Father is the husbandman'. The Father is the one who does the work, Jesus did the work on the cross, Father pours His grace - He does the work. I'm not saying there's nothing for you to do, but your job - if you're going to bear fruit - is to abide in the Vine. John 15: 'Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing'.
I'm not saying there aren't good works, but they must come out of a fruitful abiding in the Vine. I've said it to you I don't know how many times, but I'm hoping it starting to sink in - I'm not suggesting you're a bit thick, I'm just meaning we need to repeat these things to understand them: everything in the Christian life is by grace through faith. These gifts are God's grace gifts, this fruit is the character of Jesus. It must be received through repentant faith, which is just abiding, receiving, yielding, and accepting it by faith. Just as we said on Tuesday night: bring to God your pride - and you've got it, we've all got it - bring it to Him, name it, become present to it and give it to Him; and then receive the grace, the gift of humility. It's the same with this: if you want to bear fruit, confess your sin, come believing and abide in Christ, practice His presence, get filled with the Holy Spirit, take it by faith and abide day-by-day in Jesus. It's all the difference between a factory and a garden - what a difference!
It means having no confidence in the flesh. As someone said: 'A machine can do work, but only life can produce fruit'. You see, a lot of folk are living the Christian life confident in the flesh. They've got morality, they've got self-righteousness. You're brought up in a good home, a religious home, so you maybe didn't learn to do the things that other people did - and you think it's God in your life. Maybe it's not at all. Have you got the power of God? You see, it's not just not doing bad things, it's actually being able not just to do good things but actually to encounter God. John 17 verse 3, Jesus defines eternal life like this - not, 'Well, you go to heaven when you die and you don't go to hell', although thank God that's a big part of it - but He said: 'This is eternal life, that they may know You', they may know You, 'the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent'. Eternal life is to know God, for He is eternal life - that life that was with the Father before the world was, that life that we saw and we touched, the apostle says! It is that life in us!
Why is the picture fruit and not flowers? Why isn't it flowers blossoming? Sure, that's a sign of life. Well, flowers are decorative, aren't they? You would probably set flowers on a mantelpiece, or a garland of flowers around the sash of the window before you would put bananas up there - or maybe you're a bit strange, and that's what you do? I don't know. But flowers are to decorate, aren't they? But what's fruit? It's food, it's food. I'm going to tell you something: what this world around us needs is spiritual food. They don't need decorated Christians. As John Stott said: 'The Christian is meant to be a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree'. You might look the part and sound the part, but do you know what the starving hungry world, and the starving famine-ridden church needs? They need to feed on the character of true Christ-like Christians!
These qualities are not so that people can look at us and think how great we are, but that people hungry for God will find Him in us. You know, the Holy Spirit in us is to be like a fountain, Jesus said, welling up unto eternal life within us - but in John 7 that I've quoted so many times already this week, we are meant to allow that fountain to turn to a torrent until it overflows, and out of our innermost being comes rivers of living water. There is meant to be an outflow to other people to touch them, to minister to them, to feed them with the very life of God!
Now do you think I've got all this wrong, and it's really not for today at all? What do you think? I thought that for many years. A.J. Gordon was an American, and he told the story of another American gentleman with an Englishman, and they went to view the Niagara Whirlpool Rapids. Some of you may have been there. He said to his friend: 'Come and I will show you the greatest unused power in the world'. He took him to the foot of Niagara Falls, 'There', he said, 'is the greatest unused power in the world!'. 'Ah, no my brother, not so!', was the reply, 'The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the Living God'.
Let us pray. I'm not asking you your theology. I hope what I have been preaching tonight has been Bible. I'm not here to argue with you, and I would ask you to desist if you want to pick holes. It's not that I'm above contradiction, but this is not a debate. I'm not here to debate you, or argue with you - I've argued with myself long enough. That's not why these meetings are convened - but I want to ask everyone here tonight: do you not want more of God? Let me remind you of that promise that I brought to you forcibly on Wednesday night, Luke 11:13: 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!'. Paul said: 'Seek earnestly the best gift'. So there is a juncture in Scripture to seek God for what we need, and what He is willing to give.
Maybe you've never been filled with the Holy Spirit. Well, will you come tonight by faith, just raw, naked faith - not looking for an experience or anything like that, just coming by faith upon the promise that God wants this for you, and that you should have it, and you need it. You need Him, the person of the Holy Spirit and His power. Maybe you've been struggling in your Christian life, maybe that's what you need to claim tonight by faith: take Him at His word, believe that you have received the things that you have asked of Him, and you will receive them. Thank God tonight for it - and there have been people breaking through upon mere faith, nothing more. Maybe it's the gifts of the Holy Spirit in power that you need, maybe it's the character that you feel is not being exhibited in your life - but the old man, that we all have, is what's coming to the surface, not the life of Christ.
Will you deal with the Lord tonight? In the quietness, while heads are bowed and eyes closed, you stand to your feet just now. Stand to your feet, and by faith engage with God that you might receive all that He has for you - if that's what you desire, stand to your feet just now. There is always more, there is always more than we have known - I'm standing. If I hadn't been in the pulpit every night, I think I'd be standing myself every night, because I need the Lord, I need more. If you've got an old Laodicean spirit, in need of nothing, you're in big trouble - that means the Lord's outside your life, it means the Lord's outside your church.
Now you deal with God, bring to Him your need, but you must engage with Him by faith. He gives these precious things by grace, but you must receive by faith. So you take God at His word - does He want this for you? Does He want you filled? Does He want you gifted? Does He want your character to be the character of Jesus? Yes, He does! So, you take Him at His word, and say: 'Lord, this is Your promise, and in Jesus' name I ask You, and I believe that I receive the things according to Your will that I ask of You. I thank You, Lord, that You have heard me. I thank You, Lord, that You have heard me, and I receive'. Drink in those rivers of living water tonight: 'I receive now, I receive, Lord, what You have for me'. Even in this church, folk belonging to this church, God is doing something in your midst - O, don't you be working against it now. Don't you be just stuck in the mud and lukewarm, neither for it nor against it, just sitting back and observing. I'm not saying you don't have to assess things - test all things, prove what is good, reject every form of evil - but listen: God, I believe, has demonstrated through your pastor's ministry and in bygone years in this place, where His blessing rests - and this week we have known it. God is doing, I believe, a new thing - but He'll not do it without His Spirit.
Now Father, I pray for these people, Christian leaders and ministers, and - like myself - folk who are groping for more of You, Lord, just thirsty and hungry for more. We know there is much much more, and yet there are young people, and there are folk who feel they are maybe backslidden and they're cold, and, Lord, they don't know where to turn next. They may have issues, but they know that there must be more than this. Lord, they're coming to You. I pray now that they will just get that gift of faith to know that You have heard them, Lord, that You have heard them. Lord, there are folk and they feel that they have been washed up, and they have been sent out to grass, and they maybe have nothing more to do - Lord, touch them. There are folk who need healing tonight, Lord, O that You would touch them, restore the years that the locusts have eaten. I see You, Lord, with the eyes of the spirit, at the right hand of the Father, Our Great High Priest, our Prince and Saviour, and You have given gifts to men. Lord, pour out Your blessing, pour out Your power, Lord Jesus Christ - pour out Your very life in us and in this church. O Lord may this be a sanctuary, a temple of the power and personality of Almighty God. I repent again for, Lord, denying Your power. Thank You, Lord, that You're forgiving, You're merciful. O Lord, come tonight to people, and give them the witness that the Comforter has come. May they take it by faith alone, but may You give them a witness that the fire has fallen. In Jesus' name, Amen. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Abbots Cross Congregational Church in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth recording in his 'Encountering God' series, entitled "Gifts And Fruit - The Outcome Of Encountering God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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