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49:  Something More Powerful Than Your Faith

49: Something More Powerful Than Your Faith

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What Is More Powerful Than Our Faith?

The trait that defined the members of the early church that seems absent in the church today is found in the simple word, power.  And it is the very same power (dúnamis) that was promised through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and received by those in the early church (Acts 2:4).  Uh, the same power we supposedly received when we were “sealed” by the Holy Spirit who came into our lives as the “guarantee” of our eternal salvation (1 Cor. 1:22).

So if we have the same Spirit they had, and the same power through the same Spirit they had… that leads to a few questions.

•   Why were they able to live in the power they received from the Holy Spirit to the extent they were and we don’t seem to be able to do the same?
•   Did they have a different power than we do today?  Or was it the same power?  By the same Spirit?
•   And if it was the same power and the same Spirit, why were their lives marked by this unleashed power and ours don’t seem to be so much today?
•   Does God love them more than He loves us?  Or did He choose to use them more than He seems to be using us?  Were they better people than we are?  Maybe more holy, more faithful, more committed?
•   How were they different from us and what can we learn from them?

Remember, their promise was the same promise we received from the Lord.

“But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

Again, if we have received the Holy Spirit and the power (dúnamis) that comes with Him, like those in the early church, why are our lives often marked by frustration and spiritual impotence, and not the life-changing Spirit encounters we see in the Acts?  What could be the problem?

Your Doubt and Unbelief

One of the most troubling events in the life of our Lord happened in His own hometown when He “could do no mighty (dúnamis) works there” (Mark 6:5-6, Matt. 13:58) because of their unbelief.  Did you catch that?  Jesus was limited in what He could do, or how the power (dúnamis) of the Spirit could be manifest, because of their unbelief.  Read it for yourself.

Now He (what) could do no mighty work (dúnamis) there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He marveled because of their unbelief.  Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching – Mark 6:5.

Matthew adds, “He did not do many mighty works (dúnamis) there because of their unbelief – Matthew 13:58.  Which brings even more questions.  Why was Jesus not able (could do no) mighty works (dúnamis) in their midst?  What was limiting the power of God in their lives?  To make it personal, what is keeping Acts 1:8 from being true in your life?  What is keeping you from experiencing the Higher Christian Life? Is it God?  Or could it be something else?

Note, the most powerful force in you is not your faith, as strange as that may sound… but your doubt and unbelief.  Your doubt and unbelief can make void all the Holy Spirit came to make magnanimous in you.  It can nullify, completely, the power (dúnamis) you received from God in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Does that statement make you feel uncomfortable?  It does to me also.  But it is true, nevertheless, no matter how it makes us feel.  If you would like to look further into what it means to limit the Holy Spirit in your life and how it can keep you from experiencing the Higher Christian Life, join with us today as we discover what our doubt and unbelief costs us in our relationship with Jesus and the Spirit.

I think you’ll be shocked… and convicted.  And hopefully inspired to never let anything stand between you and a deeper intimacy with our Lord.  Nothing.

The Higher Christian Life

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48:  Jesus and His Dependence on the Holy Spirit

48: Jesus and His Dependence on the Holy Spirit

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After He Through the Holy Spirit – Acts 1:2

As we continue looking at the book of Acts, especially the account of the lives of those in the early church, we are stopped cold in our tracks and amazed by a small, cryptic phrase found in Acts 1:2.  And in these four small words, through the Holy Spirit, we find great encouragement in our own quest for the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and our goal of being more like Him (1 John 2:6), being complete in Him (Col. 2:10), and experiencing the Higher Christian Life (John 10:10).

Let me explain.

When we see Christ in the Gospels, we tend to view Him in one of two extremes.  One, as the Son of God who is fully God in every aspect, both co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  He is the Mt. Sinai God, the God of the Old Testament, all smoke, thunder, and lightning, only in a different person.  We have looked at this subject in the past.  And when we focus primarily on the divine aspect of Jesus, He becomes somewhat aloof and untouchable to unholy men like us with dirty hands and impure thoughts.

But, if we allow the pendulum to swing too far on the other side, we primarily see Jesus as only a man, a friend, someone we look up to and admire, but certainly not a King and definitely not God in the flesh.  He thinks like us, likes what we like, and struggles with the same things we struggle with.  Therefore we feel no need to fear or respect Him, much less obey Him.  And we don’t worry too much about sinning because as a man, He is just like us (as uncomfortable as it is to admit)— fickle, prone to doubt, and as uncommitted and faithless as we are.  Or at least that is what we assume.

Yet neither of these extremes fully capture the nature of Jesus.  Again, as we have already discussed, Jesus is fully God and fully man and will be so forever.  Yes, forever.  Theologically this is known as the Hypostatic Union and can be summarized as follows:

“Remaining what He was (fully God), He became what He was not (fully man).”

In summary, Jesus is (1) both fully God and fully man, and (2) there is no mixture or dilution of ether nature, and (3) He is united as one Person, forever.  In other words, Jesus is both God and man, and His two natures, human and divine, are inseparable and will be forever.

But He Made Himself of No Reputation (kenṓsō)

But what Jesus did was to choose not to take advantage of His divine nature while on earth in order to fully experience our temptations and sufferings and become, as Hebrews states, our High Priest who was, like us, in all points “tempted as we were, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  Jesus chose to present Himself as our perfect example of how to live the Higher Christian Life by not utilizing what we don’t have— a divine nature, and voluntarily limiting Himself to what we do have— a human nature.  As a result, Jesus struggled as we do, yet did not give into His struggles and sin.  Jesus was tempted as we are, yet did not succumb to those temptations and sin.  Jesus faced everything we face, even more so, yet held His head high, kept His eyes focused on His Father, and did not sin while being fully man.  And in doing so, He showed us the way of victory over the things that hold us back from all God designed us to be.  Jesus modeled unbroken intimacy, faithfulness, and obedience to His Father, while fully a man.  And in doing so, Jesus became the prime example for the Higher Christian Life.

So how did He do this?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but (His choice) made Himself of no reputation (kenṓsō – to make empty, void, without meaning), taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, (His choice) He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross – Philippians 2:5-8.

This was a choice Jesus made.  He purposely, voluntarily, and with great faith, surrendered His life into the hands of the Father and received from the Father the same power available to us today— the Holy Spirit.  That’s right, Jesus ministered through the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that now lives in you and is the key that unlocks the abundant life He promised (John 10:10).

We will speak more on this later, but let me close by sharing just a few truths to drive this point home.  And the first is found in Acts 1:2, the verse that prompted this discussion.

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He (how) through the Holy Spirit (what) had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen – Acts 1:1-2.

Jesus did not give these commands to His apostles by His own authority, but through the authority of the Holy Spirit living in Him.  He had placed His life in total submission to the Spirit of God who, if you remember, descended and remained on Him at His baptism (John 1:33).  But there is more.

In Acts 10 we have Peter preaching in the home of Cornelius and describing Jesus as one “anointed” by God.  How can Jesus, as God, be anointed by the Father, His equal, with the Holy Spirit, also His equal?  Simple.  God was anointing and empowering Jesus the man, through the Holy Spirit, that allowed Him to do all the things He did with the power that comes only from God (John 3:2).  And this is the same Holy Spirit, and the same power (dúnamis), that now resides in you.

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with (1) the Holy Spirit and with (2) power (dúnamis), who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” – Acts 10:38.

This is a perfect description of what God promised to give to His church in Acts 1:8.  And it is the same Greek word for power (dúnamis) used in both verses.

“But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when (what) the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you (as the result) shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

There are many other passages that point to this truth, but we will look at them another time.

So as you struggle with the Higher Christian Life and sometimes think it’s not for you, consider that everything Jesus did on earth was done through the power of the Holy Spirit who was given to Him, and to you, for the same purpose.  There is nothing you lack that is not found in Him.  And there is nothing Jesus lacked that was not found in the Person of the Holy Spirit who indwelt Him.  So be encouraged, all you have to do is surrender your life to the Spirit who now lives in you, and you will be empowered like Jesus promised when He said, “greater works than these (you) will do, because I (Jesus) go to My Father” (John 14:12).

Do you remember what happened when Jesus went to His Father?  That’s right, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in us (Acts 2).  And, as they say, the rest is history.

Let that sink in for a moment and be encouraged.

The Higher Christian Life

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47:  School’s Out— Time to Do Something

47: School’s Out— Time to Do Something

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You Shall Receive Power – Acts 1:8

We have two key objectives in mind.  One, to grow closer to our Lord and experience the Higher Christian Life, or at least try to understand what the Higher Christian Life looks like in real-time.  And two, to have our faith grow to the point we will be spiritually prepared for the chaotic times coming our way and the trials, tribulations, and persecutions, that will most certainly follow.  These, in my opinion, are noble endeavors.  And both of them can be fulfilled by studying the book of Acts and focusing on the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit in common men who lived under times far more chaotic than ours.

But if it is true the Acts is a training manual for His church and His revelation of what church should look like, then we need to ask some questions about what we read.  For if we don’t ask questions, then how will we know when the Lord answers them?  Here are some pressing questions we need to ask.  We’ll start with chapter one.

•   Who were the 120 in the upper room?  What were they like?  Where did they come from?
•   Where were they when Jesus ascended into heaven?
•   What, if anything, made them different from us?
•   And what made the church in Acts different than the church in America today?
•   In what aspect were they followers of Jesus?  Was there a part of their life they kept for themselves or had they surrendered all to Him?
•   Are we followers of Him in the same way they were followers of Him?  Or do we follow Him differently today?  And if we do, is it better?
•   What was the overriding command they were given?  How were they to fulfill that command?  And did they even want to?
•   What kind of power did they have that we seem to have lost?  And how can we rediscover the power that lies dormant in the church, and in you and me, today?
•   Do we really want to fully receive the “Promise of the Father” Jesus spoke about?  Or is that a bit too radical for us?  And if we do receive the promise, how would that change our lives?
•   Do you think it is still possible for a small group of committed believers to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) as they did back then?  Or do you think that ship has already sailed?
•   And if you do believe it is still possible, are you aware of the cost of being that kind of believer?  Is it a cost you are willing to bear?  Or a sacrifice you are willing to make?  Is it something you want to do, something you are willing for Him to create in you?  Or would you rather just pass?
•   And finally, would you want to be a member of the early church?  Or would you find it too intimidating, too convicting?

Whew.  And these are just a few questions we want to know about the lives of those who made up the early church.  For if we can see their commitment and sacrifice, maybe we can begin to be more like them.

All That Jesus Began to Do and Teach – Acts 1:1

But there is one other thing we will look at today.  And it is found in the insightful phrase that describes the ministry of Jesus, “do and teach.”

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach – Acts 1:1.

Note the order.  Ministry first, theology later.  Jesus was always doing first, and then teaching later.  For our Lord, ministry preceded and produces theology, not the reverse.  And His ministry was to do the will of the Father and out of this ministry emerges theological activity… later.  It was never the other way around.  Not for Jesus, and especially not for us.  Or at least it should not be.

But that’s not how we do church in the West.  It seems we have become teaching connoisseurs, and ministry wannabes.   We learn, and learn more, and go from Sunday school to graduate school with all our church degrees, yet fail to put most of what we have learned into practice.  Especially in the ministry of evangelism.  Ouch.  I know.  That one stings.

So let’s look at what “do and teach” implies regarding the ministry of Jesus and see if we can understand the passion and power of the early believers to glean from them something we so desperately need.  After all, they knew far less than we do.  Yet they did so much more.  How is that possible?

Let’s find out together, shall we?

The Higher Christian Life

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46:  How to Experience Freedom From Your “Besetting Sins”

46: How to Experience Freedom From Your “Besetting Sins”

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Forgiveness:  Past, Present, and Future

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit it is sin that keeps us from experiencing the Higher  Christian Life.  And it’s not our horrible, gross, never-talk-about, sin that grieves His Spirit the most.  It’s the sin we commit over and over again, the sin we have long since given up hope for ever gaining victory over.  It is the sin, no matter how small it may seem to others, that has now become part of our lives and defines our inability to claim what is rightfully ours, the Higher Christian Life.  “I know things would be different spiritually if I could just quit (you fill in the blank).  But since I can’t… and oh, how I’ve tried… I guess this lukewarm spiritual existence is my destined lot in life.  Ahem.”

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In Hebrews 11, we have a list of Old and New Testament saints that overcame incredible hardships and suffering by simple faith in God and His Word.  As such, this chapter has been affectionately called the roll-call of faith.  And it ends with the epithet of these men and women, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38).  It is a truly amazing tribute to what faith can accomplish in the life of a believer.

But then we ask ourselves, “Why can’t we seem to live the same types of lives as they did?  What is holding us back from experiencing overcoming faith?  How can we be more like them?”

And as usual, the Lord was anticipating our questions and provided His answer in the very next sentence, found in Hebrews 12:1:2.  Consider these words from our Lord.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (we are not alone, drifting in uncharted waters), let us (our action) lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares (euperístatos) us, and let us (our action) run with endurance the race that is set before us, (how) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12:1-2.

But the most important phrase in this statement is “easily ensnares” or euperístatos in Greek.  This word means “to surround or encompass, easily besetting.”  Ah, it’s a besetting sin.  And a besetting sin is defined as one we “continually struggle with and have a weakness towards, one we commit over and over again seemingly without relief or victory.”

Sound familiar?  I thought so.  You may have a few besetting sins in your own life.  Most believers do.

Sanctification:  Past, Present, and Future

After a time of trying only to fail, and fail again… only harder, most believers grow frustrated and prone to give up ever thinking victory is possible over their besetting sins.  And at some point, usually after utter despondency, they come to the conclusion either Christ is not sufficient, or their flesh is too powerful, or they are just too much of a loser to amount to anything more than a nominal Christian plagued by besetting sins no one else seems to be struggling with.  And this, after a time, leads to believing the Higher Christian Life is for others, but not for losers… like us.

But God has provided victory over besetting sins, and His victory is found in our commitment to trust Him at His Word.  He has provided for us a great promise of forgiveness and sanctification if we trust His Word to be true.  It is an if/then promise from the Lord.  We do our part (if) and He will do His part (then).  It is really that simple.  All we have to do is believe He will do what He promises to do and the victory is ours.  Consider this if/then promise:

If (our part) we confess our sins, (then – His part) He is faithful and just to (1) forgive us our sins (salvation) and to (2) cleanse us from all (pás) unrighteousness (sanctification, victory over besetting sins) – 1 John 1:9.

The forgiveness part we freely accept, no problem.  But the cleansing from all unrighteousness (our victory over our besetting sins) is a bit more difficult to swallow and stretches our faith.  So let’s look at this promise in a little more detail.

If we confess (to admit, concede, to openly acknowledge) our sins (plural), (then) He is faithful and just to (1) forgive us our sins (what we just confessed) and to (2) cleanse (to purify from the power and guilt of sin, to be free from filth and defilement), us from all (pás) unrighteousness (what is wrong, wicked, impure, an offense to God) – 1 John 1:9.

Simply stated, what you just read is true, from the Lord Himself, who is faithful and true.  What is left is the hard part.  Now you must choose to incorporate this path of victory into your own life, regardless of past failures, by faith.  And when you do, God will follow through and “cleanse you from all unrighteousness” and give you victory over your nagging, besetting sins.

If you are unconvinced, why don’t you test God in this?  After all, He has told us to test Him in other matters of faith (Mal. 3:10).  So commit to believing His Word, no matter how little faith you have in yourself, and see if He won’t bless you in such a way that the Higher Christian Life will become a reality, and not just a lofty dream.

But don’t delay.  Do it now.

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The Higher Christian Life

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45:  To Know or Not Know, that is the Question

45: To Know or Not Know, that is the Question

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Key Word for the Higher Christian Life: ginṓskō

When it comes to the Higher Christian Life, one of the most important words in Scripture is ginṓskō.  In fact, I’m not sure we could overstate that fact.  The difference between the lukewarm life with Christ, which He has much to say about in Revelation 3:16-17 and has plagued the church for centuries, and the Higher Christian Life we are striving for, is found not in academic head knowledge, but in firsthand experience with God and His Word.  In other words, it is one thing to know something mentally, and quite another to know something by experience.  One is transitory and untested and can change over time, and the other is what the foundations of life are built upon.  Let me explain.

In Scripture, there are several Greek words that are translated, know, or knowing.  Primarily, in regards to the Higher Christian Life, we need only concern ourselves with two, ginṓskō and eidō.  When it comes to knowing something or acquiring knowledge about someone, we tend to fall into one of two broad categories:  head-knowledge or first-hand experience.  And if you are honest with yourself, experience always trumps what we believe in our head.  Plus, in regards to the Higher Christian Life, God wants us to not just know Him in a mental, doctrinal, sterile, academic way, but wants His children to experience Him in the very core of their being.  Because it is in the arena of experience that faith in Him and His Word grows exponentially.   For example, what kind of knowledge do you think Paul is referring to in the following passage?

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know (ginṓskō) Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3:8-11.

Do you see the faith experiences being described in this passage?  Paul is not talking about academic, mental knowledge, but the knowledge that only comes from a shared experience, or knowledge that is birthed in the fire of adversity.  Look at what he says, I have “suffered the loss of all things”— which is an experience.  Or, that I may “know (ginṓskō) Him and the power of His resurrection”— which is definitely an experience.  Or, the “fellowship of His suffering”— nothing mental or academic about experiencing sufferings.  Or, “being conformed to His death”— again, an experience and not mental assent, that “I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”— which is another big-time experience.  Do you see the point?

Maybe it would help if I defined our two Greek words, ginṓskō and eidō.  First, ginṓskō means “to know in a full or completed sense, to know by experience, to know fully.”   But it is also used in Scripture as a euphemism for an intimate, sexual relationship between a man and a woman, whereas Joseph did not “know” (ginṓskō) Mary until “she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matt. 1:25).  Also, it conveys the idea of “love, approval, favor, with goodwill and care for the object of His knowledge.”  We see this revealed many times in Scripture.  For example, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know (ginṓskō) My sheep, and am known (ginṓskō) by My own.  As the Father knows (ginṓskō) Me, even so I know (ginṓskō) the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).  Here, Jesus is expressing a knowledge of His sheep and His Father that is based on love, care, and a deep, first-hand experience with both.

And this is the type of knowledge (ginṓskō), based on truth and an experience that confirms that truth, the Lord wants us to have with Him and His Word.  Why?  Because faith must be tested to become real and genuine in our lives.  Need proof?  Go and do a quick overview of the heroes of faith found in Hebrews 11.  Every one of them became a faith hero when they experienced something that confirmed their faith.  Every one of them had a seismic shift from mental belief to firm conviction based on an experience, the trusting and testing of their faith, the proving without a doubt that it was true.  And it is to be the same with us today, especially if we desire a deep intimacy with the Lord and embrace the Higher Christian Life.

The Importance of ginṓskō

Let me leave you with just a few verses that show the importance of knowing the fidelity of Him and His Word by experience (ginṓskō) in Scripture.  Consider the following.

Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.  And by this we know (ginṓskō) that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us – 1 John 3:24.

Do I know Christ abides in me by mental assumption or by a doctrinal position I accept?  Or do I know it by the experience I have had with the Holy Spirit who now lives in me?  Exactly.

You shall know (ginṓskō) the truth and the truth shall make you free – John 8:32.

Will I be made free by mentally agreeing with a statement about the truth, or do I become free when I experience the liberating power of the truth found in Christ?  You know the answer.  It’s quite obvious, isn’t it?

The Higher Christian Life grows when we have a first-hand, personal, upfront, life-changing encounter with the Lord.  When we come to believe, not just doctrinal facts about the Holy Spirit, but truly believe Him and His Word by the experience we have shared in the turmoils of life, then our faith is elevated to a personal level, a spiritual high, a mountaintop experience, that can never be shaken.  Never.  And this is the type of knowledge the Lord wants us to have with Him.  A faith that has been tested by fire, yet remains stronger still.

We will develop this a bit more in our next time together.

One last thing, the definition of the other Greek word, eidō, is the same as our common understanding of the English word for know.  It means just the opposite of ginṓskō.  It is not knowledge by experience, but eidō means “to see, to perceive by the senses, to be made aware of, to comprehend,” and it is often translated as see, look, or behold.  For example,

Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know (eidō – are You not aware) that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” – Matthew 15:12.

I hope you will continue to strive for the higher life in Christ, which is yours for the embracing.  It is your birthright as a child of God.  So embrace it with all you have.  And do it today.

The Higher Christian Life

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44:  The Higher Christian Life is Found in Small Words

44: The Higher Christian Life is Found in Small Words

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The Importance of Small Words

Our faith, unfortunately, is often based on head-knowledge or mental assent and only becomes real to us when it is experienced, firsthand, in the midst of a tough time or by a trial by fire.  And the Higher Christian Life is not a life of intellectual assurance only, but of faith based on our experience with the Holy Spirit who now lives in us.  After all, unless our faith is tested by trials and tribulations and we experience its truth, it doesn’t become real to us and remains academic in nature.  This is what James was trying to tell us early in his letter.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (why) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing – James 1:2-4.

But note what James is really saying:

My brethren, count (reckon, consider, live like it was true) it all joy when you fall (to fall into the midst of something as to be totally surrounded by it) into various trials (temptations, putting to the test), (why) knowing (ginṓskō) that the testing of your faith produces (to finish, accomplish, to bring to the desired end) patience (to persevere, to remain under, to endure). But let (or don’t quit or give up early in the process) patience have its perfect (complete, full, wanting in nothing) work, that you may be perfect (complete, full, wanting in nothing) and complete (whole, having all its parts), lacking nothing – James 1:2-4.

As we strive to grow in our faith in God’s Word and His promises, two Greek words will present themselves before us that are both translated, know or knowing.   The first is ginṓskō (which is used above) and the other is eidō.  One of them means to know something by experience and the other means to know like we pretty much know most things today, by intellectual assent.  And the difference between these two types of knowledge is the key that unlocks the door to the Higher Christian Life, especially regarding your faith in God’s promises.

Today we will simply introduce these two words and show how important the small words in Scripture are to embracing the Higher Christian Life.  And we’ll do this by exploring John 21 together.

The Higher Christian Life

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