Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Acts 22: Knowing Christ by Revelation, not Research

Acts 22:1-21 "Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you." And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel  according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.  I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,  as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.  And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'  Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.'  And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.' When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.'  19 And I said, 'Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.' And he said to me, 'Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"

The conversion of Saul the persecutor of Christ to Paul the preacher of Christ demonstrates the sovereignty of God in salvation: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (John 15:16). While it is true that God chooses us, we are still free to reject him, if we so decide to. But in practice, it is impossible to reject the overpowering encounter with the living God through the revelation of the Spirit--whether that revelation comes in a blinding flash of light (as in Saul's conversion) or through a deep conviction of God's love poured into our heart.

Even though Paul was on the way to persecute the followers of Christ, he was astounded and convicted by the revelation that in persecuting Christ's followers, He was persecuting God: "'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'  And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'" (v.7-8).  He responded to the revelation of Christ by calling Him "Lord." Knowing Christ for Paul was not a matter of research and reasoning, but revelation.

The mistake of modern evangelicalism is to think that conversion is a matter of assenting to a set of theological propositions, whether expressed as the "Four Spiritual Laws" or "Bridge to Life" or "Steps to God." While God can use these tools, we have to remember that true conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, not a result of  clever marketing by the church and emotional manipulation of the preacher at the "altar call." Only when the Spirit is present that the listeners would be convicted of the reality that Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" and that "no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6).

It's possible to know the Bible and yet not know Christ: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Apart from the Spirit, the Bible is a dead book. As the body without the spirit is dead, so Scripture with the Spirit is equally dead. Otherwise we would not have so many scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' days who were experts in the Scriptures but did not acknowledge Jesus as the Christ.

Christianity is a supernatural faith initiated by a supernatural God and activated through the supernatural Spirit. Paul's conversion was supernatural--it was accompanied by the healing of his blindness and being filled with the Spirit: "And laying his hands on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized" (Acts 9:17-18). I personally have witnessed at Alpha weekends many such supernatural conversions where former "free-thinkers" were no longer free to think when they encountered Christ in dramatic visions and were filled with the Spirit. In fact, their spiritual transformation occurred often before their thinking caught up with them.

In many Alpha conversion testimonies, I have heard so often the new believers saying something to this effect: "I met Christ at the weekend. But I still have many questions unanswered." In other words, the spiritual revelation of Christ has overtaken their own mental research about Christ. In other words, their minds were trailing far behind their spirits. The person's spirit has already encountered Christ through the Spirit but the person's mind is still trying to understand what in the world has just happened to them! Often, many would be in tears and feeling embarrassed would apologize: "I so sorry, I don't know what's happening to me."

Every true conversion must be based on a personal encounter with Christ through a revelation of the Spirit. My own conversion was not entirely rational nor research-based. Though I chanced upon a copy of the newly-translated Living Bible and read it after my A-level while awaiting for university term to begin in the June of 1973, I was basically still ignorant about Christianity or the message of the Gospel. So when I attended Andre Kole evangelistic magic show during the Freshman Orientation during the first week of the university term in June 73, I heard the "Gospel" presented to me for the first time through simple magic using four light bulbs covered by four colored napkins: white, black, red and yellow, representing the human race.

Andre Kole explained that man was created with light in their souls (he touched the 4 light bulbs and the light came on. But sin entered humankind and the light in the soul went off (he touched each bulb and the light went off). So, man is living now in spiritual darkness. But God loves humankind so much that He sent Christ to die for sins, so our sins could be forgiven and light could be restored back into our lives when we invite Christ into our lives (he touched the 4 bulbs and the light came back on).

I was convicted by the Spirit that my soul was in darkness that I needed Christ to restore light into my darkened soul. So, I responded to the message by repeating after Andre Kole's prayer of invitation to Christ to come into my life and take over. There is no rationality about the whole conversion process as I have no understanding who God was and even who Jesus was, but I was transformed by that one-minute encounter. I experienced a newness of life in me. There is no other explanation for this transformation except the revelation of Christ through the Spirit.

So it was with Paul's conversion. As far as bible knowledge is concerned, Paul was an expert. He was raised strictly on Scriptures, being a son of a Pharisee, and was taught by Gamaliel, the best biblical scholar of his day: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel  according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day" (Acts 22:3). Yet, his bible knowledge did not lead him to Christ. Instead, his biblical knowledge only puffed him up and caused him to persecute the followers of the Way. But the revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus literally brought him down and great mind filled with immense learning was humbled. That is why he wrote to the Corinthians later on that no one can know God through his mind but through his spirit: "For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God." (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Like Paul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, what most people need in the church is not more knowledge but more revelation. And that means walking by the Spirit and tuning ourselves to the Spirit on a daily moment-by-moment basis. If we want to know God's thoughts in Scriptures, we have to acknowledge the Author (the Spirit) and ask him for His revelation. Commentaries help--but ultimately truth is revealed Spirit to spirit. The mind is a servant to the spirit as far as things of God are concerned: "And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they [things of the Spirit] are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).

Father, grant us Your Spirit so that we might know You more in our spirit filled with Your Holy Spirit instead of trying to know You by filling our mind with bible knowledge. Amen.

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