In his sermon last weekend, Pastor Kong Hee expanded his teaching on spiritual disciplines, encouraging the church with the example of Simon Peter.
At the start of his sermon on the weekend of 29 and 30 Oct, the senior pastor of City Harvest Church, Kong Hee explained that salvation is the work of God. It starts with the Holy Spirit awakening Christians to the goodness of Christ before inviting them to turn away from darkness and into the light.
“That’s all you need to do: make a decision to repent and to believe. If you can do that, the Holy Spirit will regenerate you,” Pastor Kong preached. “The Holy Spirit will breathe life into you, and you will be a new creation in Christ.”
There is nothing more that a new believer need do, other than to respond in faith.
“At conversion, the believer becomes alive in God and there is usually a ‘honeymoon period’,” the pastor continued. Akin to a couple’s blissful time right after marriage, young Christians will enjoy a season when God pours blessings into their lives.
However, this period does not last long. In order to withstand the test of time, a Christian’s faith must now transit into solid, lasting love that can endure for all eternity.
Pastor Kong reminded the church that God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). Therefore, in order to fully relate to God, Christians must be spiritual and live a spiritual life, because the only way to commune with God is in spirit and in truth.
“How far you want to go [in your relationship] with the Lord is now totally up to you,” Pastor Kong noted. He emphasised that God did not create Christians to be puppets or robots that are controlled by Him. Even though God is sovereign, He gave believers the free will to choose to love Him or push him away. But if they were to choose to draw near to God who is Spirit, they would be able to live a spiritual life.
WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL LIFE?
A spiritual life is a life filled with God’s love, holiness, and power. The more a Christian’s life is led and ruled by the power of God, the more spiritual a Christian becomes. In other words, a believer’s spirituality depends on the degree to which they are being transformed by God.
To illustrate his point, Pastor shared about his professor Frank D Macchia at Vanguard University. Although his classes are intellectually deep and profound, Pastor Kong enjoys them tremendously because the professor ministers out of the overflow of God’s love.
“He is a spiritual man, not because he is the most brilliant scholar, but because he is so connected to the Spirit of love that rivers of love come overflowing out of him,” Pastor Kong observed.
Another example he gave was that of the late Dr Yonggi Cho, the founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest church. Pastor Kong commented that Dr Cho was the holiest person he has ever known. It was not because he followed a strict set of dos and don’ts, but because he was so full of the fruit of the Spirit. He was Christlike because he was ruled by the purity of the Holy Spirit.
Spirituality is the dominion of the spirit in a believer’s life and every Christian ought to be spiritual. 1 Corinthians 1:3 talks about “babes in Christ”, which are Christians who have spiritual life in baby form. In other words, their personalities are not yet under the influence of the Spirit and the power of their self is still very strong.
“This is where the spiritual disciplines come in,” the pastor preached. “There are exercises you do to build up a spiritual life. Paul calls them ‘exercises unto Godliness’ (1 Tim 4:7). ”
EXERCISING UNTO GODLINESS
Pastor Kong explained that spiritual disciplines include praying, fasting, spending time with God in silence and solitude, Bible study, worshipping, the confession of sins, serving in the house of God, giving and appreciating the simplicity of life.
“They enable us to live more and more in the love that is beyond us,” Pastor Kong taught. “Also in holiness that is beyond us, allowing the fruit of the Spirit to grow and become evident in you. They help you to become more Christlike and to live more and more in a power that is beyond you.”
He defined spiritual disciplines as “intentional activities that a Christian does with their mind and body, as led by the Holy Spirit, to bring their personality and total being under the rule of God.” A believer must purposefully practise them out of his own free will.
“The more you exercise yourself unto Godliness, something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit brings your personality and your entire being under the rule and influence of God,” the pastor elaborated.
Apostle Paul explained this in Romans 6:13, “Do not go on presenting the parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but present yourself to God as those who are alive from the dead and using your body parts as instruments of righteousness for God.”
Pastor Kong reiterated that God has done all the work to draw a believer to Himself at their conversion. However, how spiritual they become depends on their response to God and their willingness to exercise spiritual discipline. “The more you love God, the more you will exercise yourself unto Godliness and then you will change,” Pastor noted.
He noted that there are some Christians who have lived their lives without any significant change in their personality—there is very little resemblance to Christ in their lives. However, “the Holy Spirit is here to help you to change. But you must be willing to cooperate with Him,” Pastor Kong encouraged the church, adding, “There is no quick fix. The purifying of your mind, the surrendering of your bodily passions and wrong cravings take place little by little. You need to be very patient and persistent to train yourselves in Godly living.”
He liked the believer’s growth to Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder going up to heaven. The angels did not fly but climbed the stairs, one step at a time. Growth takes time.
“You mustn’t get discouraged when you don’t see instant change and transformation. Coming to Christ is instant; becoming Christlike takes a lifetime,” said Pastor Kong. However, if believers can be obedient and spiritual, they can then enjoy deep spiritual intimacy with God.
THE STORY OF SIMON PETER
Simon Peter experienced a dramatic transformation in his life. His journey began in Luke 5 when Jesus gave him a miracle catch of fish, and he repented and started following Jesus. He enjoyed his “honeymoon period” with God, walking with Jesus and experiencing miracles every day.
As the time drew closer to His death, Jesus told His disciples that they would desert Him. However, Simon Peter, full of self-confidence, boasted that he would never desert Jesus. To prepare him for the future, Jesus then prophesied to Simon Peter that he would deny Him three times.
At the final hour, Jesus asked the disciples to stay with him a little longer, but they fell asleep. Jesus knew that in their hearts, they wanted to be there with Him. However, their bodies were not aligned to the Spirit yet. “Isn’t this the story of all our lives? Your Spirit is so willing to live for God, but your flesh is so weak,” Pastor Kong noted.
When Judas came with the soldiers to arrest Jesus, Simon Peter reacted in his flesh and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. “It was his default mode. This was the real Simon Peter. Under stress, the only thing he knew was to get angry,” the pastor noted. “Because he had not exercised himself to be Christlike. His mind and his body were not used to responding in patience and kindness.”
Jesus, on the other hand, responded in kindness and healed the man.
Just as Jesus prophesied, Peter ran away and denied Jesus three times. When he remembered the words of the Lord afterward, he wept bitterly.
In many ways, many Christians are like Simon Peter in the Gospels, filled with good intentions but still subject to sin in his life. “Peter was really like a babe in Christ,” the pastor noted. “But God wasn’t done with Simon Peter. He wanted to change him into a rock, which was what ‘Peter’ meant.”
Peter went on to have many more encounters with the risen Christ before he started exercising himself in spiritual discipline for the first time. He began to pray and wait on the Holy Spirit, he overcame his fear of man by proclaiming the Word of God boldly, he poured his life into helping new members of the church. Peter started to pray and fast and spend time with God in solitude on his own time, allowing the Holy Spirit to purify his mind and have dominion over his body.
Eventually, when persecution broke out and the church scattered, Peter did not run away. Unlike the first time when he abandoned Jesus, he chose to stay behind in Jerusalem, facing threats of death and imprisonment. In the end, he went to the cross in Rome, but he was now unafraid. He requested to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die the same way Jesus died.
To conclude, Pastor Kong then shared that it was not in an instant that Simon Peter became Christlike. Day by day, he trained his spirit to rule over his flesh and he exercised himself unto Godliness by training his body. This was how he became the great leader of the church.
“Even for Peter, there was no instant spirituality, there was no quick fix—it was step by step,” the pastor pointed out.
Pastor Kong reminded the church that when they read the Bible, they get a glimpse of what is possible for them. “We are all fallen people, but it’s possible for everyone to lead a spiritual life. How? Practice the spiritual disciplines!” he encouraged. “Allow the Holy Spirit to bring your personality and your total being under the rule of God.”