God’s presence transforms everything. Everything that he has done, he has done to draw us to himself.
By Daniel Henderson
REDISCOVERING A CORE INGREDIENT
Over the decades I have found great delight in verse-by-verse preaching. I heard it said once that the rationale behind this approach is that “God knows the needs of his people better than I do.” I have also discovered, to my deep enrichment, that in teaching through books of the Bible, God also knows my needs better than I do. His Spirit powerfully addresses issues in my character as I preach systematically through his inspired Word, taking whatever passages might be next. This keeps me from just extrapolating repeatedly on the comfortable, familiar, borrowed or “relevant” subjects. There is such power and applicability in the revealed order and meaning of the Spirit-imparted text.
During the most difficult days of my entire ministry, I was young, wounded and disenchanted. Every fiber of my being wanted to walk away from pastoral service. My wife and I had already begun a process of finding a different career. But God, by his Spirit, intervened by restoring my perspective and realigning my understanding of the essence of Christian living.
In those months, the Lord had me teaching through the book of 2 Corinthians. This letter to Paul’s “problem child” congregation has been noted as his most transparent. Because false teachers had infiltrated the church, Paul was forced to win the hearts of the Corinthians back to Christ, his gospel and even to himself, the Lord’s apostle. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, he also prompted Paul to open his heart with an authentic and even uncomfortable transparency. By so doing, we find in Paul’s letter profound insight into the motivation and meaning of true gospel spirituality and ministry.
SALVAGED BY GOSPEL GLORY
I will confess that my study of 2 Corinthians was a powerful and timely tool of the Holy Spirit in salvaging my ministry and keeping me in the spiritual battle. At the core of this profound letter Paul talks about the true nature of his ministry (2 Cor. 2:14–4:8). I needed this because, like most seminary grads, I had other superficial and diluted ideas about the nature of church work.
The centerpiece of Paul’s understanding of ministry was found in his description of the power and superiority of the new covenant in contrast to the old covenant (3:1–4:7). Andrew Murray wrote, “The whole dispensation of the Spirit, the whole economy of grace in Christ Jesus, the whole of our spiritual life, the whole of the health and growth and strength of the church, has been laid down and provided for and secured in the new covenant.” Murray gives us a prompt here as to why we need a clear understanding about the meaning and application of the new covenant to our lives and our worship—even as Paul did.
At a personal level, my heart resonates with Murray when he writes, “All that God has ever done for his people in making a covenant was always to bring them to himself as their chief, their only good, to teach them to trust in him, to delight in him, to be one with him.” During my months of deep despondency as a pastor, God lavished these very blessings on me through my understanding of the new covenant. I was changed by what Paul described in these passages as I studied diligently and was empowered to preach passionately.
To understand the impact of God’s transforming presence we must have clarity and conviction to interpret our daily lives and our corporate worship by seeing through a distinctly new covenant lens. D. A. Carson writes, “Christian worship is new covenant worship; it is gospel-inspired worship; it is Christ-centered worship; it is cross-focused worship.”
But what does this mean, and why does it matter?
NEW COVENANT CLARIFICATION
The word “testament” and “covenant” are fundamentally the same word in the Hebrew and Greek. So in the simplest understanding, the Bible is divided between two covenants: the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant was enacted by God through the law and Moses. The new covenant was enacted by God through the person and work of Christ.
A covenant is defined as “a solemn commitment, guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an oath.” Modern-day notions of a covenant are illustrated when nations form treaties, political systems ratify constitutions, businesses sign contracts and when couples at the marriage altar make vows. Covenants in the Bible were sacred and serious, ratified by signs, solemn oaths or even a meal.
Sacrifice was often part of the process of ratifying a covenant. The term “cut a covenant” (Gen. 15:18) indicated the core component of blood sacrifice (Gen. 15:9–10, 17; Jer. 34:18). One scholar explains that the blood sacrifice symbolized the “death” of the parties who were making the contract. It said that “thereafter in the matter involved, they would no more change their minds than can the dead.” Oath. Meal. Blood. No going back.
Excerpted from Transforming Presence: How the Holy Spirit Changes Everything—From the Inside Out by Daniel Henderson (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.