Sunday, December 04, 2022

When Is It Wrong to Pray? (2)

In a previous post, we were considering the danger of using prayer as a sort of blanket to hide under when we ought to be doing something else, and I suggested that there are times when it is inappropriate for us to pray.

We will come back to that idea shortly, but let’s begin with this statement:

All men are either in Adam or in Christ.

In Adam or in Christ

The apostle Paul lays this out for us in two New Testament passages:

“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

We all began our history “in Adam”. We were citizens of a kingdom represented by Adam, the man of dust. He was the man who introduced sin into the world, and we were born under his headship. Adam was our representative when he sinned in the Garden. Consequently, when Adam and his wife had a child, that child was born in his image, reflecting the sinful nature Adam had. The psalmist says, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” That’s the direction you and I were going from the very hour of our conception, and we soon manifested that we were sinners by what we did. We are by nature rebels. We have a sin nature.

Getting Out of Adam

How do I get out of this wretched situation of being “in Adam”? We find out in Ephesians: “In him” — that is, in Christ — “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.” Other verses tell us the same message in different words, but this passage makes it very clear that to be in Christ you have to listen to the message of salvation.

That has a twofold message to my heart, and to yours too, I’m sure. Not only does it apply to us — we had to hear that message before we could be in Christ — but it’s true for your neighbor and mine. They must hear the message. Maybe God wants you or me to carry that message to him or her, because they must hear the message to be in Christ.

“And having believed.” There’s the step I had to take. I heard the message of the truth, the gospel of my salvation, but it was not enough just to hear that message, or even to know that it was the way of salvation. I knew a man who said to his son, “I know the way. You don’t have to tell me any more.” That’s a very solemn place to be in. It’s not enough to know the way. You may know the gospel of salvation and yet not experience salvation. The key to it all is believing. Faith. And so it says here, “having believed”.

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

Then notice what it says: “You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” When we put our faith in what Christ did at Calvary, God sealed the work that he did by pouring out the Holy Spirit on those who believe. “God has poured forth this,” says Peter on the day of Pentecost, referring to a mighty demonstration that the Holy Spirit had come. God is perfectly satisfied with the work that Jesus did, and he has “poured forth this”, speaking of the Holy Spirit. There is the clear demonstration that Heaven is pleased with Christ, and pleased to incorporate into Christ all who believe, so that they are transferred from being in Adam, and they come over and are now in Christ. Just as certainly as we were in Adam before we were saved, even more certainly are we in Christ, because we are sealed in Christ.

“In him we are sealed with” — not “by”. It’s not something that the Holy Spirit just does to us, where he comes and puts a stamp on you and says, “You belong to the Lord.” That would be wonderful enough, wouldn’t it? But when you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God indwells you. He himself is the seal. He himself is the very earnest of the coming possession. That’s how secure we are in Christ. Do you think Satan can break that seal? It’s the Holy Spirit himself! That cannot be done. It’s a permanent thing. God has placed us in Christ.

Blessed with Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ

When you are in Christ, you are blessed with every spiritual blessing. Ephesians 1 tells you that this is true, that there is nothing lacking as far as God is concerned. He has made every provision for us in Christ. You ask me what I’m going to be like when I get to heaven. Just look at the Lord Jesus. He’s the sample. You ask me what you’re going to be like when you get to glory. You’re going to be like the Lord Jesus. We shall be fit companions for Christ in that day. We shall be like him. We shall see him as he is. God sees that work as absolutely accomplished, because the fact that we’ve come into Christ is the guarantee that the whole program is going to be completed.

Now tell me, do you think I can lose that salvation? It doesn’t depend on me. It doesn’t depend on my works. It doesn’t depend on my obedience or my faithfulness, though those things are characteristic of the life of a true believer. You can’t lose that salvation because you fail. No way you can; you’re in Christ. Just as Adam represented what you were before you were saved, so now you are fully represented by the Lord Jesus. Where he is, and what he is, is yours.

5/ Don’t Pray for What We Already Have

You say, “What’s that got to do with prayer, and when prayer is not appropriate?” Well, here’s another situation in which prayer is not appropriate: Don’t pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you or in you. He’s already there.

There are hymns, of course, that suggest you need the blessing of the Holy Spirit in your life. “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me” and other verses that suggest the Holy Spirit is somewhere else other than in the believer. I understand that there is a keen desire in the hymnwriter to make us reach out to claim that which is ours, but the way it is expressed is not always good.

Now, the Holy Spirit still has a work to do in our lives over and above what he has done in sealing us. I understand that. By the Spirit of God, we can enter into the enjoyment of truth that is already ours.

What is Paul praying for the Ephesians in that first chapter? He says, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened”. He’s not praying for the Holy Spirit to come to them. He’s not praying for forgiveness to be truly theirs. He’s not praying that they might have an eternal inheritance. He’s praying that they might come to understand what they have in all that.

Praying for Understanding

This is where it becomes incumbent upon us to pray for those to whom we speak. We need to do what Paul does here as he lays out these glorious truths. He recognizes that he cannot make people believe them. He can’t bring people into the enjoyment of that. So he prays, but he doesn’t pray that these things may be true, but rather that those things which are true may become real in their lives in the sense that they will understand what is theirs.

We need to pray as we preach that we might have an open mouth to make known the word of truth boldly, but that’s not enough. We need to pray for the people to whom we preach that the Spirit of God would open their minds and hearts to the truth we’re trying to impart. Without that, what we’re doing is not truly a labor in the Lord. In order to have a labor in the Lord, you must be relying on the Lord to do the work.

That’s where our prayer belongs. Prayer has to be focused in the right direction. We’re not praying for the Spirit of God to come when he’s already come. We’re not praying for an inheritance to be given when it’s already given. We’re not praying for the victory in Christ when it’s already accomplished. These things are already there.

In One of Two Men

It’s wrong to pray for what we already have. That’s a sin. You say, “Don’t put it so strongly.” Well, I have to. Because what we’re saying, as believers, when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives is that … he isn’t there. And God’s word says he is. Faith in God’s word must be coupled with the prayer. We must pray according to the will of God, not according to our own aspirations or desires, however earnest they may be. We must bring our understanding of where we are in line with scripture: we’re in Christ.

— Colin Anderson, excerpted from “In Adam vs In Christ”, May 2004

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