Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. --Psalm 86:11

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Forgotten Spirit?

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26 NIV
Many today, both inside and outside the church, lament the fact that many Christians do not “live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received” (Eph 4:1). Rather, we’re viewed as moralistic and hypocritical. We know we should be different from the world, but we seem powerless to change.
Certainly there are many reasons for this. I wonder if one is a malnourished theology of the Holy Spirit. In American evangelicalism it seems that the Spirit is either the unexplained and often ignored third member of the Trinity or the one we call on to defeat lurking demons (which he can) or give our sermons a spiritual spin (which he should). I sense that the average Christian knows neither why God gave us the Spirit nor how he works out our spiritual transformation.
Theology affects life. Recovering a faithful theology of the Spirit should energize Christian mission and motivate Christian ethics.
  • Our moralism could be tamed by the realization that the Spirit is a gift of God’s grace, given not only to initiate our new birth, but also to empower our spiritual life by faith after we believe. We are not saved by grace and then expected to grow righteous in our own strength. We don’t try harder and become good by sheer willpower. Spiritual maturity is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). “By grace through faith” is not just the means of conversion, but of our transformation! We have no reason for spiritual pride or looking down on others.
  • Our ethical compromise might change if we recovered the truth that the Spirit is God’s empowering presence[1] at work in us. It is given to accomplish the heart renovation that God promised for his renewed people (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-28). Our old stony hearts have been transplanted by new hearts, and the new person is filled with God’s power to accomplish God’s will. Our superabundant spiritual resources are cause for humble confidence.
  • We might live as “more than conquerors” in our present struggles if we understood that the Spirit lives and works in us right now, liberating us from sin, inspiring our renewed  life, allowing us to call God “Abba, Father” and enabling us to retain the hope of glory in our hour of trial (Romans 8)! The Spirit is the middle term between Christ’s victory and ours.
  • The Spirit certainly does not exempt us from the struggles that are common to all humans, but much hopelessness would wither if we believed that God’s indwelling Spirit is only a “down payment,” guaranteeing the full inheritance of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:5)! Our current transformation is merely the first installment of the victorious transformation God will achieve at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-57). Our present sufferings are “light and momentary” compared to the glorious new creation God will complete in us (2 Corinthians 4). Therefore, we need not lose heart (4:1, 16)!
If we took all this theology to heart, so that it worked out in our lives, the church be full of Spirit-filled people whose lives reflect God’s holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24; 5:8, 18), whose unity displays God’s peace (2:11-18; 4:1-4) and whose community becomes the place where the living God of heaven inhabits earth in and through his people (2:22). The temple-church would be a powerful sign, anticipating the time when heaven and earth unite and God dwells with his people (Revelation 21:3)! Then what would outsiders say about us? Perhaps they would fall down and worship, exclaiming “God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25)!
The Spirit promised through God’s prophets, poured out at Pentecost and powerfully at work in us today is the invisible source and the unstoppable force of our spiritual life! May we live like it is true!

[1] This phrase comes from the title of Gordon Fee’s exhaustive study of the Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul: God’s Empowering Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).

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