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“. . . you will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses . . .
to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus Christ made this statement to his followers after his resurrection (on the third day after he was crucified), and right before he ascended to Heaven (see Acts 1:1-11), which ended his physical earthly ministry at that time.
Right before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples the following in John 14:1-27 (NIV):
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus the Way to the Father
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid . . . .”
“. . . the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you . . . .” Unfortunately, there is much misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit and how he works in the lives of those who truly trust and believe in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and he is one of three distinct persons (God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) that make up the Godhead–the Trinity. The Holy Spirit also has a personality with a mind, will, and emotions (see this article, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Mary Fairchild at this link). And his attributes include the following (see page 2 of “Who is the Holy Spirit?” at this link):
- He teaches (John 14:26)
- He testifies (John 15:26)
- He convicts (John 16:8)
- He leads (Romans 8:14)
- He reveals truth (John 16:13)
- He strengthens and encourages (Acts 9:31)
- He comforts (John 14:16)
- He helps us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26)
- He intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26)
And the Holy Spirit has gifts for each of us who believe in Jesus Christ, which are stated in I Corinthians 12:
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Brothers and sisters, I want you to know about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You know that at one time you were unbelievers. You were somehow drawn away to worship statues of gods that couldn’t even speak. So I want you to know that no one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, “May Jesus be cursed.” And without the help of the Holy Spirit no one can say, “Jesus is Lord.”
There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.
The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all. To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides.
One Body but Many Parts
There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.
Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it. First, God has placed apostles in the church. Second, he has placed prophets in the church. Third, he has placed teachers in the church. Then he has given to the church miracles and gifts of healing. He also has given the gift of helping others and the gift of guiding the church. God also has given the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages. Is everyone an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages they had not known before? Do all explain what is said in those languages? But above all, you should want the more important gifts.
Love Is Necessary
But now I will show you the best way of all [which is love–the greatest gift of all–see I Corinthians 13].
Often, in our fast paced society, we (who are Christian) are often too busy making a living and trying to squeeze in everything that we can to stop and consider what the Holy Spirit would have us to do. If we acknowledge him at all, it might be in his giving us the abilities that we have to make a living and provide for our families, but if we read the list of “gifts” above, those gifts are not about us what we want to get from him in this life. No . . . those gifts are given to us to expand the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self on earth. Those gifts include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, spiritual discernment, the gift of tongues (the ability to speak in unknown languages) and the interpretation of the same. When was the last time we gave any thought to these gifts of the Spirit as we rush through our days in an effort to secure our own place in this world, make a name and a place for ourselves, making more money, and acquiring more “stuff”? Our focus is often on us instead of God, and we need to shift our focus back to the One we claim to follow.
For those of us who truly believe in Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:11-14 states:
In him [Jesus Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Genuine believers are “marked” with the Holy Spirit living in them; however, as 1 Thessalonians 5:19 states, we can “quench” the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives by running our own lives in our own power and going our own way if we choose to do so. As stated in the answer to the following question on GotQuestions?org, “What does it mean to grieve/quench the Holy Spirit?”:
Both quenching and grieving the Spirit are similar in their effects. Both hinder a godly lifestyle. Both happen when a believer sins against God and follows his or her own worldly desires. The only correct road to follow is the road that leads the believer closer to God and purity, and farther away from the world and sin. Just as we do not like to be grieved, and just as we do not seek to quench what is good—so we should not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit by refusing to follow His leading.(Quote source and full article at this link.)
That is not to say that we can attain “sinless perfection” in this life. “The Bible teaches that, while we are in the flesh, we will always struggle with a sin nature (see Romans 7:14-25). No one will be “perfect” (sinless) until we reach heaven.” (Quote source here.) At it’s core it is about a heart attitude, and who it is we love and want to serve–self or God.
Ephesians 4:30-31 also makes the following statement regarding our ability to grieve the Holy Spirit:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
So how do we know whether or not we allowing the Holy Spirit’s leading or grieving him by the way we are living our lives? I read a couple of short devotions yesterday regarding the Holy Spirit that I will share in partial answer to this question. They are taken from the book, “Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” compiled from the writings and/or sermons of Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) by Marilynne E. Foster:
Am I really Converted?
As the body without the spirit is dead,
so faith without works is dead also.
I believe in the deeper Christian life and experience–oh yes! But I believe we are mistaken when we try to add the deeper life to an imperfect salvation, obtained imperfectly by an imperfect concept of the whole thing.
Under the working of the Spirit of God through such men as Finney and Wesley, no one would dare to rise in a meeting and say, “I am a Christian,” if he had not surrendered his whole being to God and had taken Jesus Christ as his Lord. . . .
Today, we let them say they are saved no matter how imperfect and incomplete the transaction, with the provisio that the deeper Christian life can be tacked on at sometime in the future.
Can it be that we really think that we do not owe Jesus Christ our obedience?
We have owed Him obedience ever since the second we cried out to Him for salvation, and if we do not give Him . . . obedience, I have reason to wonder if we are really converted. (Source: “Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” April 13.)
The second reading speaks to how the Holy Spirit becomes one with us:
Who is the Holy Spirit?
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
he shall teach you all things. . . .
How shall we think of the Holy Spirit? The Bible and Christian theology agree to teach that He is a Person, endowed with every quality of personality, such as emotion, intellect and will. He knows, He wills, He loves; He feels affection, antipathy and compassion. He thinks, sees, hears and speaks and performs any act of which personality is capable.
One quality belonging to the Holy Spirit, of great interest and importance to every seeking heart, is penetrability. He can penetrate mind; He can penetrate another spirit, such as the human spirit. He can achieve complete penetration of and actual intermingling with the human spirit. He can invade the human heart and make room for Himself without expelling anything essentially human. The integrity of the human personality remains unimpaired. Only moral evil is forced to withdraw. (Source: “Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” January 7.)
I’ll end this post with the words from Galatians 5:13-26, which tell us how to live by the Spirit:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness . . .
Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control . . .
Against such things there is no law . . . .
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:
What is it about love that we just don’t get? Oh sure, we may say we have love for our family (maybe, depending on what kind of family we came from) and friends (depending on if they are just the fair-weather type or if they hang in there for the long haul–and not many appear to be in that category nowadays) and maybe we even have a bit of love for others like us (defined, of course, by us and who we choose to give it to), and maybe even some left over for “them.” You know, the “them” we all love to hate, or judge, or mock, or gossip about behind their backs because they aren’t just like us. Or we want something from them that we don’t have (you know, that whole arena known as envy and/or jealousy). So we throw stones . . . .
First off, we need to admit that we aren’t very good at love. Love really isn’t in our DNA. Selfishness is in our DNA. Our world gets wrapped around our “wants” (that we often excuse off as “needs”). That’s not to say that we don’t have real, genuine and legitimate needs. Food, clothing, shelter, as well as genuine compassion and love are actual needs. But mostly here in America our “wants” (e.g., bigger, better car or house; career success; showcase family; accolades; power, status and money–the list is endless in our prosperous society) cry out to be satisfied because we say we “need” them. No, we don’t. We want them. We are, mostly and unfortunately, egocentric. It’s self first (but we sure know how to disguise it). Just look at the huge number of books in any bookstore found under the title of “Self Help.” And all this “self” stuff can get down right nauseating.
If you’re read this far and you’re now offended, good. If you can lay aside the offense, I’ve got some good news for you, but it’s not about us. However, it has the ability to transform us and that is very good news. The question is whether or not we want to be transformed. And that’s a question only we, on an individual basis, can answer.
One of the things I’ve noticed in the venues of Christianity in America over the past several decades is that we have gone from a salvation that requires genuine repentance and a living and vital relationship with Jesus Christ that can really transform us to a “pseudo-salvation” that coddles us and leaves us where we started in the first place because we’ve been lead to believe that Jesus will understand that it’s just too hard for us to change. Well, of course it is!!! And we can’t do it on our own. But if we spend years living in a swamp of despondence and don’t move on in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who can change us, we won’t change. The change doesn’t come from us, it comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ, and it’s a relationship we should never take for granted. As long as we focus on us and what we can’t do, we will never understand that the power comes from Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and that is where the change comes from. Excuses just don’t cut it, and that’s how we’ve been coddled to believe–that Jesus will understand if we never change.
Do you understand what that kind of thinking is really saying about Jesus Christ? It says that he really isn’t “all-powerful,” and that he really isn’t “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” It brings him down to our level, instead of us being lifted up to where he wants us to be. It is the reason we get this whole “love” thing wrong, because, as J.B. Phillips stated in the title of his book, “Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike” (see blog post titled “Where the Wind Blows” for reference), we have made God and Jesus Christ out to be way too small and essentially not a whole lot different from us, no matter what the words may say in the worship songs we sing on Sunday morning. In and of ourselves, we can’t change (or even if our modest attempts work temporarily they usually don’t stick) and there is no point in groveling about it for years on end when Jesus Christ has given us the answer through his death and resurrection and his words of life found in the Bible. But we have to read those words, and pray, and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ on a regular basis that goes beyond the “help me” stage. Now, there is nothing wrong with the “help me” stage, but we shouldn’t live there on a permanent basis as the main address we use when we pray to him.
In John 10:10 Jesus states:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“Full” goes beyond our normal sphere of thinking such as material possessions or “things” we can get in this life here on earth (and that doesn’t mean that they might not happen, but they are not nor should they be our focus). “Full” means more than we can think or imagine. It means living life here on earth from an eternal perspective—God’s perspective. It means having a relationship with Jesus Christ that sees beyond the obvious of what we as humans tend to focus on to the level where God operates (see 2 Peter 3:9). And that kind of relationship can’t help but change the person to whom Jesus gives this life to that he has promised to give to everyone who follows him. But it requires a living, breathing relationship with him. It requires that we take action. It requires a faith that can’t be seen (see Hebrews 11–also, for an excellent article on faith by Dena Johnson titled, “What Does it Mean to Walk by Faith?” click here). If we so choose we can ignore him and let everything in this life get in the way and that will leave us totally stunted in our relationship with him. We can wallow in self-pity–a very human trait–for years on end but the time comes when we need to grow up. We can’t stay babies in our relationship with Jesus Christ forever. Well, yes we can, if we so choose, but we will totally miss out on the life he wants us to have–a life unlike any other you’ll find here on this earth. It’s a life of freedom only found in a cross. It’s a life beyond self. And it’s the only way to find and give genuine love . . . to everybody, even our enemies.
One of the problems in our society today it that we don’t take sin seriously. If we think about what Jesus really did when he died on the cross–and the price he paid which is huge–we’d take the whole sin issue much more seriously. Sin in any form stunts us and keeps us from knowing the full power of living the life Jesus meant for us to live here on earth. We make excuses for our sin instead of repenting of it and asking Jesus to change us. While we can never totally escape our human side as long as we are here on this earth, we cannot excuse off sin as trite or irrelevant. The cross is neither trite nor irrelevant. And coddling folks when they need correction is not helpful to anybody, and it misses the mark by a mile–the consequences of which are eternal.
We can harp on the lack of love there is in this world and within Christian circles and communities and towards each other, too, but the solution has already been given to us through a relationship with Jesus Christ and if we don’t actively partake, all the harping in the world will not change us and make us more loving. The love we give to others can only come through Jesus Christ.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Think about that. Do we really think that he can’t change that thing (read that as “sin”) in our lives that we keep stumbling over? Well, he can’t if we won’t let go of it. “Coddling” says to keep at it and excuse it off for as long as possible. “Correction” says to confess it now and let it go. “Go, and sin no more” (see the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-12). And that choice is ours.
If we want genuine love to be the focus of all of our relationships, the kind of love expressed in I Corinthians 13, we can only get it from one Person, and he’s willing to give it to us without measure. It all depends on what we want to hold onto . . . .
And if it’s anything other than Jesus Christ . . .
We lose . . .
And so does love . . . .
Chorus for “Testify to Love” (see YouTube video below):
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I’ll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” (2003) by Avalon:
I venture to say that many folks in America are familiar with the verse found in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
However, many might not know that this verse was part of a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council (see John 3:1-21). Let’s take a look at the entire dialogue:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Jesus specifically told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (vv. 5-8).
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
What we learn from these few verses about the Holy Spirit is crucial to our understanding of how God works in the hearts and minds of those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. These key points (from the verses above) are:
- “He [the Spirit of truth] will guide you into all truth” (v. 13a).
- “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (v. 13b).
- “He will glorify me [Jesus] because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (v. 14).
In the first chapter of Acts we learn that after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that “he presented himself to them [his apostles/followers] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (see Acts 1:3-4). Also, “on one occasion while he was eating with them he gave them this command” (see vv. 4-11):
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
And down through the ages since that time the mission of every single believer in Jesus Christ is the same as he gave to his first followers back then–to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” through the power of the Holy Spirit who’s mission is to impart the truth of Jesus to us so that we can tell others about him. And Jesus described the Spirit as the wind, and “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (see John 3:8).
Often today it seems as if we (e.g., believers in Jesus Christ) have lost our main focus in the maze of everything that comes our way in our American culture. We coast along in neutral and feed on a weekly sermon from church (if we attend) which may or may not focus on Jesus Christ (which is, by the way, the only reason for the Church in the first place). We associate with other Christians but rarely talk about Jesus Christ to the nonbelievers around us and our lives look remarkably a lot like their lives, too. There is no power in our “witness” to convince them otherwise (or maybe even ourselves) as we’ve lost our power by coasting along in neutral and “going with the flow” instead of depending on “the wind of the Spirit” to show us how to live and where to go. In fact, I dare say we don’t even know what that “wind” feels like most of the time.
In a blog post I wrote back in November 2012 titled, “Moving Forward (It’s About Second Chances),” I mentioned a book that was originally published the year I was born titled, “Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982). The book is available for free in PDF format (92 pages) at this link and is also available for purchase at this link. The book describes a number of ways we put “God in a box” by our own very limited understanding along with our own cultural and/or religious biases. The book is divided into two sections: (1) Destructive–unreal gods, and (2) Constructive–an adequate God. There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here’s some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Several of those titles most likely ring a bell in all of us as to how we personally view God. However, as I stated in my previous blog post, the one that really intrigued me was “God-in-a-Box.”
The chapter titled, “God-in-a-Box” (pp. 22-25 in the PDF download) specifically addresses the difference between “Christianity” and “Churchiness.” In the opening paragraphs, Phillips states:
The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have, and often does have, a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ (though he has probably rarely considered Him and His claims with his adult mind). But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is not merely their differences in denomination, but the spirit of “churchiness” which seems to pervade them all. They seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them. He may never think of putting it into words, but this is what he thinks and feels.
“If,” the Churches appear to be saying to him, “you will jump through our particular hoop or sign on our particular dotted line, then we will introduce you to God. But if not, then there is no God for you.” This seems to him to be nonsense, and nasty arrogant nonsense at that. “If there is a God at all,” he feels rather angrily, “then He’s here in the home and in the street, here in the pub and in the workshop. And if it’s true that He’s interested in me and wants me to love and serve Him, then He’s available for me and every other Tom, Dick, or Harry, who wants Him, without any interference from the professionals. If God is God, He’s BIG, and generous and magnificent, and I can’t see that anybody can say they’ve made a ‘corner’ in God, or shut Him up in their particular box.”
Of course, it is easy to leap to the defense of the Churches, and point out that every cause must be organized if it is to be effective, that every society must have its rules, that Christ Himself founded a Church, and so on. But if the Churches give the outsider the impression that God works almost exclusively through the machinery they have erected and, what is worse, damns all other machinery which does not bear their label, then they cannot be surprised if he finds their version of God cramped and inadequate and refuses to “join their union.”
There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness, and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs; but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is “a good churchman” according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.
Read that last line again . . . “For the actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.” Essentially, what that means is that we don’t really live out what we say we believe and it’s rather obvious to the rest of the culture at large. We look and act just like they do but tell them to come and see how Jesus can change their lives when he really hasn’t changed our lives all that much. And just look at all the infighting going on in the public square via the media regarding who we “accept” and who we “throw away” (for example, see a recent article titled, “The Mark Driscoll Controversy: How to Criticize Each Other,” published August 7, 2014, in Crosswalk.com). We sure know how to slander, criticize and/or shun each other but we don’t know how to love very well, or forgive, either. And Jesus was very big on both–love (read “The Greatest Commandment” in Matthew 22:34-39) and forgiveness–(read the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35).
If the “wind” we blow most of the time is mostly hot air, don’t think the rest of society hasn’t taken notice. If we spend our time criticizing, gossiping, and/or slandering others, something is missing. And the lack of love found in that kind of behavior is apparent to the whole world, too. Our behaviors betray what we say we believe, so why would anyone else want what we say we have? And what exactly is it that we have if we don’t have love for others . . . and that means all others?
If we want the true “wind of the Spirit” flowing through our lives we have to give up blowing our own hot air, and 1 John 1:5-10 has the solution:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . .” That should give us pause for thought when we start to slander or criticize someone, especially those who don’t fit into our particular mold or “box.” The only folks Jesus ever got angry with were the religious folks of his day, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, and even then the words he spoke to them he said to wake them up (for example, see Matthew 23). And instead of listening they crucified him.
However, his death was not in vain, and, in fact, was ordained from the beginning of time to bring salvation to those who will receive it. He rose from the dead on the third day to give us new life, and he sent his Spirit to live in us, to breathe through us, and to move in us by “the wind of the Spirit.” (See Paul’s statement in Acts 17:28—“For in him we live and move and have our being.”) But if we are full of ourselves, that can’t happen.
We need to lay aside our pettiness, our finger-pointing, our need to be right or to condemn others, and we need to be reminded of what the first three verses in I Corinthians 13 state:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
And as the last two verses in I Corinthians 13 state: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain . . .
“Faith, hope and love . . .
“But the greatest of these is love . . .”
Let’s choose love . . . .
YouTube Video: “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant: