Empty Vessels

B61F405A-375C-46AA-B842-93E756F91089The only thing we have to offer God is an empty vessel. An empty vessel that desires to be filled with the spirit of the living God in order to make the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ known to others. A surrendered vessel that allows the Spirit to do whatever He chooses. It has nothing to do with how capable or talented we are. Until we can become the empty vessel, fully surrendered, we will never experience the fullness of what It is to please God while in these earthly bodies. I have to ask myself. Who do I want to please? Will I allow the judgments and condemnations of others to keep me full? Will I allow my own strengths and accomplishments to keep me full? Will I allow my fears and doubts to keep me full? Will I allow the approval and acceptance of others to keep me full? Will I allow fleeting sin to keep me full? As long as I am focused on pleasing people I will never be the empty vessel. As long as I love my sin more than I love my God I will never be the empty vessel. A vessel that is used for honor. A vessel that is used for love. A vessel that is full of the spirit of God, being wielded by Him to do the supernatural to make the gospel known.

No part of me can do what He wants to do apart from the Holy Spirit. Not one part. Not any part of you either. I am overwhelmed with emotion thinking about how badly I want to be that empty vessel. What do I need to get rid of so that God’s Spirit has total control of this vessel? What do you need to get rid of?

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭2:20-26‬ ‭ESV‬

In order to become a vessel of honor to be used by God through His Spirit in me I have to cleanse myself from what is dishonorable. Empty myself of all the garbage and let the Spirit of God fill me with what is good. Righteousness, faith, love, peace, kindness, joy, self-control, patience, gentleness. This is the only way for me to bring the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ to those around me. When I get rid of the garbage my heart will begin to desire the things of God on a deeper level. Galatians‬ ‭5:16-17‬ tells us “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” If you truly want to be in the flesh and you don’t desire to walk in the spirit, or you don’t feel any remorse over doing what is opposed to the spirit, you probably don’t have the spirit of God in you. How can I say that? This passage tells us that our flesh keeps us doing the things we don’t want to do. Why don’t we want to do those things? Because Gods Spirit in us has transformed us so that we no longer live to please people, but to please God. When the Holy Spirit is in you, you do not want to be in the flesh. When you do fail, (which is probably daily, at least it is for me) you aren’t okay with it.

Romans 7:7-21 explains this perfectly. Paul tells us that although he desires to do what is right (in his spirit) his flesh is incapable of doing it. He continues to do the things he hates (his sin). The answer to this problem? To seek every day as best we can to live in the Spirit. How do we do that? To cleanse ourselves from unrighteousness and surrender to the will of the Holy Spirit in us. It is a battle that requires a daily surrender of our flesh and our own desires, and can only be accomplished supernaturally through the Spirit of God in us through salvation in Jesus Christ. We have to be aware of the Holy Spirit and surrender to his leading.
‭‭When I am aware of the Holy Spirit and surrender to Him I can hear and understand more clearly where he is leading me. This is when my faith is assured. Jesus said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13) This isn’t just a nice thought. It is the truth. The Holy Spirit literally speaks things to my heart and directs my life. It is supernatural and powerful. There is nothing normal about it, and nothing compares to it.

Years ago I was at work and I was headed to teach my bible study. This particular day I felt completely incapable and unqualified (to be honest, I often feel this way when doing things with God). I stopped on the way to say hi to my friend Eric, he was much wiser than me. He often sang gospel music at his church and other events. I looked nervous and he asked me what was up. I’ll never forget the wisdom he shared to encourage me. He told me that whenever he was about to sing he would pray the following prayer. “Holy Spirit, let me be invisible, that you would be seen.” I prayed this way that day and I was able to teach God’s Word confidently. That had such a lasting impact on me. I pray that prayer as often as I can and I always feel peace and confidence afterward. Holy Spirit, let me be invisible, that you would be seen. Such a beautiful prayer of surrender. I wonder if Eric even realized the wisdom he was sharing in that moment and the impact that would have on me. I believe that when we choose to become empty vessels for the Holy Spirit to fill, giving Him control, we begin to experience exponential divine encounters. When you are a vessel of honor the Holy Spirit is free to work His gifts in you at His will. The Holy Spirit spoke a word of wisdom to me through Eric, His vessel. If the thought of being that vessel for the Lord doesn’t sound like the most amazing thing to me it’s because I am full of things that are contrary to the Spirit of God. There is no room for the Spirit because my flesh is in control. I have to empty myself of everything dishonorable so that I can be used by God for His work. Jesus said that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Every single day I have to empty myself of me and surrender to the Spirit of Christ in me. I have to give up what my flesh desires and let the Spirit take over, otherwise I can do nothing. At least nothing of true value.

A life as a vessel of the Holy Spirit, fully surrendered to the will of God, is truly the most fulfilling and incredible life. There is nothing boring about it. As Christians we have to empty ourselves of everything that is against Christ and become the vessel of honor to be used by God for every good work. This is the only way the World will truly see the truth of Jesus Christ and experience the supernatural power of Gods love. If the love you see seems ordinary, then you’ve never seen the love of God. 

Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian. Why are “Christians” leaving their faith?

4E83266E-D93A-4DD0-9C1C-A579F9D5E5E4You don’t become a Christian because you start going to church and doing Christian activities. Let me warn you. Doing these things has benefits that can be dangerously confused with life transformation through salvation. What are those possible benefits? Community and relationships, positive emotional experiences, a good set of moral standards to follow, volunteer opportunities that lead to a sense of accomplishment, sometimes financial benefits. These things aren’t bad, unless you believe this is what it means to be a Christian. In this case, these things are detrimental. There is actually such thing as religious addiction. Why? Because religion can provide positive experiences and can be A good coping mechanism.

So what is a Christian really? The answer has nothing to do with a list of religious activities. John 1:12 says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Ephesians 1:13 tells us “ In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” A Christian is a child of God, who received and believed in Jesus, who is sealed with the Holy Spirit. So what does it really look like to be a Christian and to have the Holy Spirit with you and in you? For starters it is a constant. Sometimes we choose to ignore him, but he is always there. If you forget about God when you leave your church,  or you have no desire to pray and just be with God in his presence, or you don’t feel any different than you did before unless you are in a church building, or you have no intrest in being more like Jesus and understanding scripture on a deeper level, or you have never known the Holy Spirit, or you have no desire to please God and give him control, could it be that you go to church but you aren’t actually a part of God’s church?

What happens to a kid who grows up going to church and knows how to do all of the churchy things but never actually became a Christian through acceptance and belief in Christ, never receiving the Holy Spirit? Could that child grow up doing Christian things and eventually, because there is no true root and doubts about the Bible set in, walk away? This person is walking away from religion, not true Christianity. What about the boyfriend who got invited to church by his girlfriend (who said she wouldn’t marry him unless he was a Christian) and chose to adopt Christian practices because of the benefits, but never actually became a Christian? What if this man decided to go to seminary and became a pastor because he knew how to act like a Christian and enjoyed studying (not to mention, nowadays becoming a pastor can be a good career choice). You can learn biblical things and have knowledge without salvation in Christ and the Holy Spirit of God living in you. However, knowledge without the Holy Spirit does not lead to wisdom or understanding of spiritual things. (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 are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14) There are atheists who teach Bible courses at universities. How can that be? It’s very easy for this to happen. It is very easy to go to a church building every week, to listen to sermons, to volunteer, to get a seminary degree, and not be a Christian. The bottom line is, a Christian is a member of the body of Christ every single day. When you have the Holy Spirit in you there is no way not to desire the things of God. If you do not desire to please God you do not have his spirit living in you. Does this mean we always please him? Of course not. Sometimes we choose to operate in our flesh instead of the Spirit. Christians absolutely cannot be in the flesh at all times because the Spirit is living in them. When you are at your worst, you will still know the Spirit is in you, even if for a time it is simply the conviction of sin or the urging to walk in the spirit instead of your flesh.

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I’ve recently heard stories of Christians who were in popular bands or writing music for Christian bands walking away from God. This is sad but were they ever truly with God? You can think you are and not be. Judas was with Jesus all the time and was involved in ministry, but he never actually believed. He acted like a disciple, but he never was one. (“But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)” John 6:64

Have you ever met someone who was such a “faithful Christian” never missed a church service , there every time the doors were opened, volunteering every weekend, and then Just like that, walks away from God? Why does this happen? Perhaps we have a misunderstanding of what it means to be with God? Perhaps many Christians have a very flawed idea of what a Christian even is? Of what the church is? Could it be that some of those people who walk away from Christianity are not actually walking away from God, but are actually walking away from a belief system centered on a set of religious practices? These things are empty and do not take the place of a real life with God. 

Jon Steaingard of Hawk Nelson, in his post about walking away from his faith, talked about how he and his wife did not enjoy going to church or worship. He said “Now I don’t believe anything was wrong with us. We simply didn’t believe – and we were too afraid to admit that to ourselves.” Listen, you do not become a Christian and receive the Holy Spirit of God if you do not believe. Belief does not equal attending church services religiously, singing in worship bands, going on missions trips, giving money, attending church events or workshops, going to seminary, or engaging in other religious activities. When you believe, truly believe, you will be sealed with the Holy Spirit. He will be with you and in you. According to scripture, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, and you would know if you do, you are not a Christian. How can I say this? Because it is Gods spirit entering you through belief, acceptance, and repentance through Jesus Christ and his resurrection that you are sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is what happens when you become a Christian. There is no mistaking the presence of the Holy Spirit in you and with you. Based on what this man said, he did not walk away from his faith in God, he walked away from religion. In order to even be with God you must have his spirit dwelling in you. Doubts about the Bible will not cause you to leave your faith when you literally have Gods spirit in you. Doubts about the Bible when you do not have Gods spirit in you will. My hope for this man is that now that he has removed himself from the bondage of religion, he can truly seek God and find true belief in Christ. 

John 14:15-17 says “ If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Here Jesus tells us that we know the Spirit because he dwells with us and is in us. He doesn’t say we can know him, he says we do know him. If you don’t know the Holy Spirit through personal experience, he isn’t with you. You are not a Christian. Only you can know that, I will never look at someone and decide whether or not they truly are a Christian. That is between that person and God. I’m just relaying the truth of scripture. Truth that has often been lost in the chaos of activities, programs, and false beliefs about Christianity.

Acts 2:36-38: Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This verse shows us that when we repent and receive Christ we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is not something we have to work extra hard for. We have to be careful not to ignore the Holy Spirit or quench him through despising his power, as we are warned in Thessalonians. But, even when we do this, we will still know the Holy Spirit. We just won’t experience him as we would when we engage and fellowship with him. The way we were always meant to.

If you are going to church and practicing religion without salvation, without being sealed by the Holy Spirit through your belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ, I urge you to stop. Acting like a Christian without belief will not transform you. It will potentially harden you toward God. Why? Because you will not understand spiritual things and you will likely be deceived. You will also deceive others. It is 100% possible to go to church multiple times a week, to passionately sing worship songs, to listen to sermons and take notes, to give, to volunteer and serve, yet not be a Christian. If you lost all of the extra benefits of going to church that I mentioned before (community, emotional experiences, financial gain, a moral standard to live up to, activities that lead to a sense of accomplishment, etc.) and all that was left was God, would you still be a Christian? If you have the Holy Spirit living in you through salvation then the answer should be yes. Just really stop and imagine that for a minute. Abraham and the early prophets didn’t have church services. They didn’t have exciting worship services with bands and lights. They didn’t have talented preachers with a mix of humor and depth. They didn’t have Sunday school. They didn’t even have the New Testament. They had Communion with God Almighty, and that was enough. The early believers didn’t have grand church buildings and Hillsong worship, or entertaining programs, or coffee shops to hit up before Sunday service. They had the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit dwelling with them and living in them. And that was enough. We have to get back to the heart of what it truly is to be a Christian. What it truly is to be the church. We have to strip it all back and ask ourselves if God is truly enough. We have to start there. If that is not the foundation everything else is worthless. We have to truly understand what is necessary and required in our Christian life and realize that if that is missing, “Christian activities” are pointless. 

This post isn’t about what we do as Christians (which is highly important), it’s about who we are as Christians. You can do Christian things and not be one. You cannot be a true Christian without action. You must become a Christian before you try to act like one. Fake it til you make it doesn’t work here. Not only that, a lot of things focused on in American churches are either extrabiblical, or mentioned hardly at all in scripture, yet are the focus of “Christianity”. If you start there, rather than with God, there is a danger of getting a very flawed Christian belief system that is not based on truth. According to scripture, a believer, someone who accepts and receives Jesus and becomes a child of God, receives the Holy Spirit of God and is radically transformed. This person then needs to be discipled by another person. This is not the same thing as listening to sermons or attending church services. The Holy Spirit is now with you and will guide you as you study scripture, gather with other Christians, and get discipled. This then leads to a life in God’s presence, loving him deeply, and a life poured out in love and service to others (here is where the action comes into play). This is what Jesus taught and this is what the early church was all about, and what the church today needs to be about.

Here is a recent experience I had with the Holy Spirit. I could share so many, but that would be a really long post.. I tried to choose one that will not only focus on what it’s like to have the Holy Spirit in me, but also what it’s like to navigate doubts about the Bible, and how the Spirit of truth helps me with this kind of thing.

Recently a friend of mine lost her brother to cancer. He was 39 and had 5 beautiful children. I was devastated by this and to be honest, mad at God. One day I opened my bible to Mark 16:18 and read this; “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Reading this made me extremely angry and confused. They laid hands on this incredible man and anointed him with oil. God chose not to heal him in this life. I prayed with such raw emotion and tears, asking The Holy Spirit to explain to me why this verse was here? It didn’t make any sense and it obviously wasn’t true based on what I knew of God. Honestly in that moment I felt I had no faith and I wasn’t sure what to even believe about the Bible. (Too bad we can’t all admit that this happens to all of us without fear of being labeled faithless. Not true at all!) I really needed truth and asked God to reveal it to me. A few days later a guy I know did a talk on the accuracy of the Bible (this was totally random by the way). He spoke about how some verses were added in over time and were not actually included in the earliest versions of the text. After his talk I went over to him and asked him what some of the other verses were that were added in? He said to me “well there’s one in Mark.” I knew immediately which verse he was about to say. Mark 16:18. That is exactly what he told me. Of course I was able to confirm this information. This verse wasn’t included in his talk. He only told me because I felt an urge to go and talk to him more about this issue. The Holy Spirit showed me truth. Why? Because he is with me and in me always. The Holy Spirit teaches me all that I need to know. Not only that, but I felt his love in a deep way. This experience with the Holy Spirit not only gave me peace in my doubts, but it confirmed my beliefs. This has happened in my life countless, I mean countless!, times. What if I didn’t have the Holy Spirit and this happened? What if I saw that verse and looked it up for myself and found that it was added in by someone and wasn’t found in earlier versions of the text? Do you think I might have started questioning my so called belief in the Bible? I certainly do. Because I have the Holy Spirit of God, He revealed truth to me, assuring my faith. This also taught me that there are some issues with biblical translations and that I need to be cautious with that. I also need to understand that questions about the Bible, When Gods Spirit is in you , don’t destroy faith, they force you to rely more deeply on the Holy Spirit for truth and push you deeper into Gods presence, causing you to fall before the throne of grace. This is where we find help in our time of need.

I could share many stories of my life with the Holy Spirit and how this has strengthened my faith in God and helped me through doubts. Is the Holy Spirit with you and in you? If you call yourself a Christian but you can’t answer yes to this question that’s a problem. Maybe you are ignoring him because you don’t really know that he is always with you and living in you. Or maybe you simply do Christian things but you aren’t one. Get alone with God in prayer, ask him to change your heart and to teach you through the power of the Holy Spirit and scripture what it really is to be a Christian.

The Holy Spirit confirms the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Well because when you believe in and receive Jesus, God puts his Spirit in you and you change. This wouldn’t happen if the gospel weren’t true. You might always struggle with doubt over the Bible, but through the Holy Spirit you can have total assurance and confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saved a powerful quote for last. Taken from an interview with Jon Steingard and Sean McDowell.

“The only good reason someone should be a Christian is if it is true. And we can know it’s true by direct testimony of the Holy Spirit and by examining the historical evidence for the resurrection.” Sean McDowell