Mind Over Muscle

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-3 ESV

13 But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…

19 …they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.– Philippians 3:13-14, 19-21 NLT

There is a very real sense in which the doctrine of sanctification has come to be understood as a byproduct of human effort. When we read verses that tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV), we can’t help but assume that Paul expects us to put some sweat equity into this thing called the Christian life. We’ve been indoctrinated with the sage wisdom contained in such homespun phrases as “there’s no free ride” and “you don’t get something for nothing.”

We have no problem believing that our salvation was a gift from God, but for some reason, we have taken full responsibility for our sanctification. After all, didn’t God command us to be holy, just like He is holy? That sounds like a call that’s going to requires some serious effort to be achieved.

Paul asks us, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?” Then he follows it up with the admonition, “So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “So run to win!”

There are literally dozens of passages that call us to live out our faith, and all of them require effort on our part. The Christian life is not intended to be a spectator sport. It requires our full participation and our whole-hearted commitment. Which is why Paul told the Philippians, “you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). He shared the very same message with the Ephesian believers, pleading with them “to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1 NLT).

But the problem lies in how we perceive and apply these kinds of verses. Is Paul suggesting that our quest for living a worthy life is all up to us? Is he teaching that Christlikeness is achieved through self-effort and discipline? 

Do you see the subtle danger underlying this mindset? If we’re not careful, we can turn sanctification into a works-based doctrine, where we become responsible for achieving a higher state of righteousness and earning favor with God. But here’s the problem: If we’re the ones who put in all the work, we end up believing that we deserve all the credit. We wrongly assume that we became more holy through hard work. It was all the time we put into reading the Scriptures, going to Bible studies, attending worship, praying, giving, serving…doing.

But Paul won’t allow us to go there.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

Notice that Paul stresses the God-ordained nature of our salvation, but also of our sanctification. He says we were created anew so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. God not only came up with the plan, but He provided the power to pull it off. We are His masterpiece. Not our own.

This does not mean we are puppets on a string, helplessly dependent upon the whims of God, the divine puppet master. We are not mindless robots, programmed by God to do His bidding, with no effort required on our part. We are new creations, individuals who have been created anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do what we were incapable of doing before: Serve God faithfully and obediently. Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, we have a capacity we didn’t have before. We have access to a power that was formerly unavailable to us. Which is why Paul was able to say, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

So, what is our role in all of this? If we’re not puppets on a string, but we’re also not the masters of our own fate and the determiners of our own holiness, what part do we play? How hard are we to work at this thing called our sanctification?

The answer to these questions lies in the balance we maintain between muscle and mind or, to put it another way, effort and thought. You might say that the motivation behind the use of our motor skills is the key to understanding our role in our sanctification. We have to constantly ask the why behind what we do. If the goal behind all our effort and expenditure of energy increased righteousness in this life? Is all our running done in order to reach the prize of holiness here on earth? Or, as one author has put it, to achieve “your best life now”?

Paul presents us with a vital piece of advice, of which many of us are either ignorant or simply choose to ignore.

seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth – Colossians 3:1 ESV

There is a real sense in which we run the race to win the prize in this life. We live with the mistaken impression that all of God’s blessings are supposed to come in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. For some reason we have been trained to expect pain-free, joy-filled lives this side of heaven. We want happy marriages, successful careers, obedient children, and glorified bodies now, not later. We want to live forever and do everything we can to prolong our lives here, while forgetting that our citizenship is in heaven. Which is why our mindset has so much influence over how we expend our energy.

Paul said he strained forward to reach what lies ahead. He pressed on “to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). He was focused on the return of Christ and the resurrection of his own earthly body. Paul knew that the key to his future glorification or his ultimate arrival at sinless perfection was based on the resurrection of his body. That was the goal he ran towards. His mind was set on the finish line. And because he constantly had the end of the race in mind, it determined how he ran every step. He ran to win, but he didn’t expect to receive the prize in this life.

All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step… – 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 NLT

Paul was purposeful. He was diligent. He said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT). But what was the motivation behind all his discipline and training? The finish line. And what was that finish line? The future resurrection of his body.

…we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

That’s the goal. It is God planned from before the foundations of the world. What we experience here is temporary and fleeting. It is not meant to last. Which is why we are to focus all our efforts and energies on what is to come. God has not promised us our best life now, but He has assured us of eternal life to come. Which is why the apostle John lovingly warns us:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

Eternal life. That’s the goal. That’s the objective. And that never-ending life will include sinless perfection made possible by glorified bodies. That is why Paul encourages us to seek the things that are above and to set our minds on the things above. In other words, we have to get our heads right, so that our hearts are right. And when we do, we’ll end up putting all the muscle we can into running the race in this life, because our minds are set on the prize of eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Resurrection and Glorification

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:1-11 ESV

The Bible makes it clear that those who are in Christ have been sanctified by God. It is a positional reality. Through their union with Christ, Christ-followers enjoy a new status as God’s chosen people. They become His adopted children and joint-heirs with Christ, with all the rights and privileges that come with sonship, including our eventual glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:17 NLT

To be heirs of God’s glory means that we will one day inherit the same glory that Jesus did, experiencing the same resurrection and glorification of our bodies. That is Paul’s point in Romans 6.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

It is this promise of future resurrection that allows us to suffer through the difficulties of this life. In fact, Paul indicates that suffering should be expected in this life, because Jesus Himself suffered during His earthly ministry. And Paul would have us remember that “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:17-18 NLT).

As Christians, we have been sanctified or set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him and He views us as His children, and one day we will receive our full inheritance, including an eternity of unbroken fellowship with Him. God has set us apart for more. He has our future glorification in store for us. And while we must suffer in this life, it is only a temporary experience, and it will be followed by our promised glorification.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

Paul reminded Titus, “we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). But why do we look forward with hope for that day? Because “when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Colossians 3:4 NLT). And what does it mean to share in the glory of Christ? Paul puts it this way:

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is to be our objective and the prize on which we set our sights as we live in this world. Jesus did not offer us our best life now, but a better life to come. Because of the fall, this world is under a curse. Our physical bodies are moaning and groaning from the reality of death’s influence over them. We age. We get sick. We suffer pain and the constant threat of disease. Because these bodies are temporary and, despite our best efforts, were not intended to last forever.  The apostle Paul, who was no stranger to suffering and pain, described our physical bodies as tents, temporary dwelling places that are destined to wear out. But he lived with the confident hope of his future glorification, when he would receive a brand new “house” prepared for him by God.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Yet, while we have the promise of our future glorification awaiting us, we still have to live in these impermanent and imperfect tents in the meantime. And not only are they prone to pain, decay, and suffering; they’re highly susceptible to sin. Even the apostle Paul lamented the reality of sin’s constant influence in his life.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And this constant battle with sin’s unceasing attacks on his body caused him to cry out “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). But Paul knew the answer to his own question. It was Jesus. And the freedom for which Paul longed had already been made available to him.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. – Romans 7:25 NLT

Our earthly bodies make it virtually impossible for us to live as we desire to live. But Paul is not throwing up his hands in frustration and giving up hope in ever being able to live righteously this side of heaven. He is attempting to get his readers to understand the reality of our hope in Christ. This life is not all there is. Our sanctification by God was not intended for our present comfort and immediate glorification. We don’t receive all the blessings of God in this life. There is more to come. And Paul would have us focus our attention on two aspects of Jesus’ life that we share with him.

The first is His death.

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

We share in Christ’s death. Our old sinful self was crucificed with Him. And Paul reminds us of the second half of that remarkable reality. “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NLT). We are united with Him in His death and in His resurrection. The first part sets us free from sin’s dominion and domination over us. Sin no longer enslaves and controls us. The threat of death no longer looms over us. But if there is no resurrection, this promise fades like the morning mist in the presence of the sun.

That’s why Paul so strongly defended the reality of the resurrection, telling the believers in Corinth that, to doubt the resurrection was to deny any hope we have future glorification.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

Any hope we have of living for Christ in this life is based on the promise of the resurrection. That is why Paul told the Romans:

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. – Romans 6:9-10 NLT

Jesus suffered and died. But He rose again and lives in His glorified state. His death broke sin’s stranglehold over us. But His resurrection provides proof that His sacrificial death was acceptable to God and that our future glorification is certain. Because He rose, so will we. And Paul would have us focus on the unwavering nature of this promise – even now. Confidence in our future glorification should influence the way we live our lives on this earth.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:11 NLT

We have been sanctified. We belong to God because we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection. We died with Him, so we will one day be glorified like Him. And sin can do nothing to change that glorious reality.

So, Paul provides us with some encouraging words, based on the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. We can say no to sin. We can refuse to let our earthly bodies determine our identity. We belong to God because we have been sanctified by God. And even this earthly, fallen bodies can be used for His glory because we have His Spirit within us.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Sinner or Saint?

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 1:1 ESV

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints1 Corinthians 1:1-2 ESV

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi… – Philippians 1:1 ESV

If you’re like me, you probably have a difficult time considering yourself a saint. In our day and age, that word has taken on a certain connotation that virtually eliminates any hope of it applying to us. After all, just look at the dictionary.com definition:

any of certain persons of exceptional holiness of life, formally recognized as such by the Christian Church, especially by canonization

Exceptional holiness of life. That phrase makes it sound like a saint is a member of some kind of elitist segment of Christianity. By definition, it’s a relatively small group, made up of over-achieving, super-spiritual individuals who have earned the title by virtue of their exceptionally holy lifestyles.

But the only problem with that definition is that it is not biblical. Nowhere in the Bible do we see the word “saint” used as a label for the spiritually elite. In fact, the vast majority of times it appears in the New Testament, the word “saint” is used to refer to any and all members of the body of Christ. In almost all of the letters Paul wrote to the various churches he helped to start, he addressed his readers as “saints.”

Even when writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded them that they were “called to be saints…” – in spite of the fact that they were displaying anything but saint-like characteristics. This was a church in turmoil. It was marked by disunity and dissension. They were willingly tolerating immorality in their midst.

To make matters worse, they were using the gifts given to them by the Spirit to claim spiritual superiority over one another.  And yet, Paul reminded them that they were all called to be saints.

But what does Paul mean when he refers to them as saints? To understand Paul’s meaning, we have to look at the Greek word Paul used when writing his letters. It is hagios, and it is most often translated as “holy” or “saint.” It literally means “most holy thing” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

The words saint, sanctify, and sanctification all share the same Greek root word.

saint = hagios

sanctify = hagiasmos

sanctification = hagiazo

In the opening salutation of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul used two of these words in addressing the congregation there.

…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints – 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

The word sanctified has to do with consecration. In the Greek, it was used to refer to something that had been set apart as holy. In the early church, it took on a very specific meaning: “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” That was clearly Paul’s meaning when addressing the believers in Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. These people had been set apart or sanctified by God for His use. They belonged to Him. And Paul expected them to live their lives in keeping with their new standing as God’s possession.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT

It’s obvious from the content of Paul’s letter that the believers in Philippi were guilty of committing sins. They were a divided church, arguing over such things as whose baptism was more significant based on who performed the baptism. They were fighting over bragging rights as to who had the more flamboyant and spectacular spiritual gift. And while Paul clearly recognized their many sins, he addressed them as saints.

He wanted to remind them that their status as God’s children had nothing to do with the nature of their spiritual gift, the pedigree of the one who baptized them, or the impressiveness of their religious resume. No, he told them:

…because of him [God} you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

There were saints because they had been set apart by God. Their status was not based on their accomplishments. They had not earned their way into God’s good graces. Which is why Paul told them there was no reason for them to boast. Their standing before Him had all been His doing, and it had all been made possible by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul wanted them to see themselves as saints. Yet, they suffered from the same spiritual schizophrenia we do. There wasn’t a day that went by without a reminder of their own sinfulness. And Paul knew there were two ways they could address this problem. One was to ignore their sin altogether by discounting or dismissing it as unimportant or even non-existent. The apostle John addresses this fallacy.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. – 1 John 1:8 NLT

If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

Paul was well aware of their sins and was not afraid to address them about it. He wanted them to acknowledge their sins, but he didn’t want them to view themselves as sinners. They were saints. They had been set apart by God for His use. As the apostle Peter put it: “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). And Peter went on to say, “As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:10 NLT).

Now, there are those who would argue that we still need to view ourselves as sinners. You may have even heard someone refer to themselves as “a sinner saved by grace.” While there is truth to that statement, it often carries an unhealthy emphasis that does more damage than good. We already have a natural tendency to dwell on our faults and failures. We live with an achievement-based mindset that makes every sin we commit seem like a step backward in our spiritual journey.

Paul would have us focus on the positive side of the ledger. We are saints. We have been set apart by God. He sees us as holy and righteous because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul was always “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13 NLT).  He refused to dwell on the past. And he wanted the Corinthian believers to understand that their sins were a byproduct of their past nature, not their new life in Christ. So, he reminded them:

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:9-10 NLT

People who live like this aren’t heirs of the Kingdom of God. They aren’t saints. And while this news probably left a few of the Corinthians wondering about their future status, Paul immediately reminded them:

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 1:11 NLT

Something had happened to them. They had been sanctified by God. They had been set apart as His own possessions and were now considered as saints, not sinners. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God. Now, they were to live like who they were: saints.

But some might say that Paul referred to himself as a sinner. In fact, he called himself the chief of all sinners. And they would use his letter to Timothy as proof.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT

Paul wasn’t wallowing in his sinfulness. He was simply suggesting that his past sin was an example of God’s incredible mercy and grace. Nobody had a worse pedigree when it came to sin. After all, Paul persecuted the church of Jesus Christ, actually putting Christians to death in his zeal to eradicate this radical sect called The Way. But God had mercy on him. God set Paul apart as His possession and dedicated him to His service. Paul never forgot his past, but he refused to let it identify him. He was no longer a sinner. He was a saint.

Paul told the Corinthians, “such were some of you.” At one time they had been sinners outside the fold of God. They had been enemies of God. But that was in their past. Now, they were saints, and they were to live like it. Paul was not calling them to live lives of perfection, but to recognize that they had already been perfected by God. They had been cleansed, made holy, and declared righteous by God.

In 1701, Isaac Watts penned the following words and put them to music.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was Isaac Watts wallowing in his “wormness”? Was he suggesting that he was still a sinner? The answer lies in the rest of the lyrics to this great old hymn.

 

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.

Like Paul, Isaac Watts was describing his past condition. He had been a helpless, hopeless sinner, guilty of crimes against a holy God and sentenced to death. But then, God showed him grace and showered him with His love in the form of Jesus Christ. And, as a result, Isaac Watts was able to say, “the burden of my heart rolled away.”

He had become a saint. The burden of sin was lifted. The debt had been paid. The guilt was removed and replaced with the joy of having a right standing with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

We Will Be Like Him

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 ESV

Christlikeness. That is or should be, the quest of each and every follower of Christ. The very phrase, “follower of Christ” suggests a form of imitation or emulation of the one being followed. In his first letter, the apostle Peter encourages his audience to endure suffering well, following the example of Jesus.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. – 1 Peter 2:20-22 NLT

The Greek word for “example” is hypogrammos, and according to The Outline of Biblical Usage, it refers to “a writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” Jesus’ life of humility, servanthood, suffering, and sacrifice was intended to provide us with a model for living the Christian life this side of the resurrection. As Peter says, we are to follow in his steps, emulating His example of righteousness in the face of suffering.

The apostle Paul took this call to emulate Jesus a step further. He was so confident in his efforts to follow the example provided by Jesus that he could tell the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). Paul had no problem telling the Corinthians believers to follow his example because he knew he was following in the steps of Jesus Himself. This is not a case of Paul bragging about his spirituality or setting himself up as some icon of religious virtue. He was simply stating that his life was worthy of emulation only because he was following the example left to him by Jesus.

The apostle John provides yet another call to live a life marked by Christlikeness.

But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:5-6 NLT

John provides an inseparable link between the worship of God and a life lived like that of Jesus. In fact, in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus when He boldly claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). And Jesus went on to say to the Jewish religious leaders, “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:7 NLT). He was claiming that these highly respected scribes and Pharisees, who were revered for their outward displays of religious zeal, were actually ignorant of God. They didn’t know God because they refused to recognize Jesus as His Son.

Unlike Jesus, these men were full of pride and convinced of their own inherent righteousness. They refused to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. But Paul paints a dramatically different picture of Jesus, presenting Him as the humble servant who willingly obeyed His Father, even to the point of death.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

But Paul goes on to describe what happened after Jesus died on the cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names. – Philippians 2:9 NLT

Jesus died and was buried in a borrowed tomb, but He rose again. He was resurrected from the dead, given a glorified body, and restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven. And this is a big part of the example that Jesus left us to follow. He lived His earthly life with His eyes set on the heavenly prize.  He never forgot what God had in store for Him. It was what motivated His actions. Yes, He died because He loved us. But as the author of Hebrews makes clear, Jesus also knew that His death was not the end. He also knew that His death would be insufficient if it was not followed by His resurrection and glorification. And we are to live our lives with the same confidence in our future glorification.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Don’t miss the weight of this passage. The author states that it was because of the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the pain, shame, and suffering of the cross. He knew that His death would not be the end. He was fully confident in His resurrection and glorification.

Over in the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul makes an interesting statement that I believe is often misunderstood and misapplied. He writes rather cryptically: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 2:12 ESV).

We tend to read this passage and all our attention focuses on the words, “press on.” This is an action statement and we hear Paul calling us to do something, to pursue after something. In the very next verse, Paul describes himself as “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13 ESV). But what is it that lies ahead? What is Paul pressing on toward and straining after?

We fail to consider what Paul means when he talks about “this” and “it.” And we run the risk of misunderstanding what Paul means by “what lies ahead.” So, to grasp the significance of Paul’s words, we have to back up to the preceding verses where he states, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11 ESV).

What’s the “it” that Paul is pressing on toward? What is the thing that lies ahead to which Paul is straining forward? It is the resurrection of the dead. And Paul makes that perfectly clear in verse 14.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14 ESV

Paul is looking forward to the return of Christ. He even says so just a few verses later.

…we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. – Philippians 3:14 ESV

But don’t miss why Paul is awaiting the return of Christ. It is so he will experience the transformation of his lowly body into its new and glorious version. Paul expands on this remarkable event in his first letter to the Corinthians. And he describes it to them in order to encourage them.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

And Paul’s point is not just that we get new bodies, but that we get fully redeemed, glorified bodies just like that of Jesus. And that means those bodies will be without sin. Which is why he joyfully shouts, “thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV). And with the promise of future glorification in mind, he tells the Corinthians, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

The knowledge of their future glorification was to make an impact on their everyday lives. They were to live with the ultimate goal in mind, pressing on, straining forward to what lies ahead. And, in his second letter, Paul provides them with further encouragement to keep on keeping on.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

Even in this life, we can experience the transformation of these “lowly bodies” into the likeness of Christ. But our full transformation will not take place until He returns. That is why John reminds us, “we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). The day is coming when we will be like Him – in all His glory. We will share His glorified nature, completely free from all sin, sorrow, pain, and suffering. And just hours before His death, Jesus prayed to the Father, sharing His desire that all those who would follow Him in this life, would eventually join Him in the life to come.

“Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” – John 17:24 NLT

It is the eager expectation of this future reality that should influence our present outlook and behavior.

And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3 ESV

One day, we will be just like Him. So, why wouldn’t we want to live with that end in mind? If that is God’s preferred future for us, why wouldn’t we make it our life’s focus and objective?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The New Has Come

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ESV

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

22 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV

Paul emphatically claims that those who are in Christ are new creations. Their old way of life, what Paul refers to as the life “according to the flesh” is gone, having been crucified with Christ on the cross. And, according to Paul, this former life of the flesh was marked by a focus on self, but the new life, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection, is to be focused on His glory.

But what does all this really mean? What’s the practical reality of all this talk of new creations, new life, and the new self? Because as good as it sounds, the fact is, every Christian still wrestles daily with the very real presence of their old self. Paul even commands us to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Yet, he told the Corinthian believers that “the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). Which is it? Is the old self gone or do I have to put it off? If my old self died with Christ on the cross, why does it seem so very much alive and active in my life?

We tend to read passages like this with a black-and-white, either-or mindset. We hear Paul saying we are new creations and we expect to be able to live like it. When he tells us that the old is gone, we take him at his word and then wonder why it doesn’t seem to be true in our own lives. Which leads us to either question the reliability of Paul’s words or the veracity of our own salvation.

But there’s an important distinction that Paul makes in his letter to the Corinthians. In verse 16 he states, “we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). The Net Bible translates that verse this way: “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.”

Much of what Paul is saying in these verses has to do with our perspective, the way we view things. As Christians, we are to view life through a different lens than we did before. We have a new, Spirit-enabled way of looking at life, because we have had our spiritual eyes opened to the truth. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, each of us suffered from spiritual blindness, and were incapable of seeing things from a spiritual perspective. Back in chapter four, Paul described the sad state of those outside of Christ.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Not only are they unable to see the glorious light of the Good News, they can’t see the reality of their own spiritual darkness. They are stuck on a physical plane where all their attention becomes focused on what they can see with their physical eyes. They are relegated to judging life and one another by external criteria alone. But when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of the believer, it’s as if he or she receives the spiritual equivalent of Lasik surgery. Paul describes this spiritual eye surgery this way:

…people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT

The Spirit of God allows us to see life the way God does, and God sees us as new creations, because we have been born again. This is the gist of the conversation that took place between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. Jesus dropped the somewhat cryptic bombshell on Nicodemus: “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). And when Nicodemus expressed his confusion over Jesus’s words, Jesus responded, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7 NLT).

Being born again is another way of expressing the new life to which Paul refers. With the new birth comes a new nature that allows a Christ-follower to see life with eyes wide open. No more blindness. No spiritual cataracts blurring our vision and giving us a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. The Spirit of God gives us new eyes and a capacity to see things the way God does. That is why Paul says, “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.” We aren’t deceived or distracted by the outer manifestations of religious behavior or self-manufactured displays of righteousness – in ourselves or others. We aren’t impressed by the superficial signs of religious achievement that are really nothing more than dirty rags in the eyes of God. Instead, we see ourselves as God does: As new creatures. Like Paul, we are able to say, “The old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NET).

That doesn’t mean our old nature is dead and gone. But it does mean that it no longer holds sway over us. We are no longer slaves to our old way of living. And we are no longer blind to worthless nature of that old nature. It has no value. It brings nothing good to the table. And Paul is stressing that by focusing on our new nature – who we are in Christ – we’re able to treat our old nature with the disdain it deserves.

We’re able to recognize and believe that walking in newness of life is not only possible, but unavoidable. But we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are new creatures. We have new natures. We have a new power within us that makes a new way of living possible for us. Paul encourages us to remember that our new self has been “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness{ (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). That is the essence of our new nature. 

You are not a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. Becoming a believer wasn’t a case of God whitewashing over your old sinful nature. No, He put that old nature to death on the cross. And Paul describes that unbelievable reality in very powerful terms.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatains 2:20 NLT

A big part of understanding what Paul is saying comes with a change in our perspective. We have been trained to think of ourselves as works in process. We are always viewing ourselves as unfinished and incomplete. Most of us have grown up on a steady diet of achievement-based messaging. We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough, athletic enough, rich enough, popular enough, or even spiritual enough. So, we do more. We study harder. We exercise more often. We eat less. We attend more Bible studies.

But Paul would have us think before we act. He would encourage us to see ourselves as God sees us. We are new creations. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

…we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

This is not about us doing everything in our power to become what God desires for us to be. It is about us accepting the reality of who He has already made us in Christ. He has already created us anew. We are already new creations. We are not flawed creatures trying to improve ourselves so God will accept us. We are children of God, fully acceptable to God because of what Jesus Christ had done for us. He “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

His death made our new life possible. We live new lives, not so we can be accepted by God, but because we have been accepted by God. As Paul put it, the life we live, we live by faith in the Son of God. Living according to our new nature begins with believing that we really do have new natures. It is resting in the knowledge that newness of life is not some kind of unachievable goal to be pursued, but a status to be embraced and believed.

That is why Paul so strongly emphasizes our relationship with Christ. It is not about us and all that we have to do. It is about Him and all that He has done on our behalf.

…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Mr. Worldly Wiseman

1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. – Philippians 3:18-20 NLT

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 NLT

In his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan recounts the efforts of a new believer in Christ who embarks on a journey to the Celestial City, a metaphor for heaven. On his way, Christian, the book’s main character, encounters a wide array of characters, many of whom try to distract and detour from his destination. Bunyan gave each a name that reflects their particular character. One of these individuals is a gentleman named Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Here is Bunyan’s description of their encounter.

Now as Christian was walking solitarily by himself, he spied one afar off come crossing over the field to meet him and their hap was to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman’s name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman: he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy ; a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came. This man, then, meeting with Christian, and having some inkling of him – for Christian’s setting forth from the city of Destruction was much noised abroad, not only in the town where he dwelt, but also it began to be the town talk in some other places – Master Worldly Wiseman, therefore, having some guess of him, by beholding his laborious going, by observing his sighs and groans and the like, began thus to enter into some talk with Christian. – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This well-dressed gentleman engages Christian in conversation and it doesn’t take long for his intentions to become evident. Seeing the burden Christian carries on his back, he offers to give his new-found friend “good counsel.”

I would advise thee, then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy burden: for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessing which God hath bestowed upon thee till then.

When Christian responds that he is on his way to the Celestial City in order to have his burden removed, Mr. Worldly Wiseman responds: “it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who, meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions; which distractions do not only unman men (as thine I perceive has done thee), but they run them upon desperate ventures, to obtain they know not what.”

His solution is for Christian to seek aid in the nearby city of Morality where there lives a man named, Legality, “a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are from their shoulders.”

Mr. Worldly Wiseman assures Christian that his burden can be removed in the city of Morality with the help of Mr. Legality and his friend, Mr. Civility.

There, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, as indeed I would not wish thee, thou mayest send for thy wife and children to come to thee to this village, where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is there to be sure, for thou shalt live by honest neighbours, in credit and good fashion.

In his own inimitable and timeless way, John Bunyan has painted a picture of the many dangers that face the believer as he makes his way through this life. As Paul told the believers in Philippi, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). We don’t belong to this world anymore. In fact, Peter describes us as “temporary residents and foreigners” and he urges us “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). Paul tells to “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2 NLT).

Yet, like Christian, we find ourselves surrounded by those who want to distract our focus from the reality of heaven and deceive us into believing that our hope and help can be found in this world. But Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and all those like him, is deadly wrong when he counsels Christian to take his eyes off of the Celestial City. Paul had some strong words for the worldly wise of his day.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21 BSB

Paul pulled no punches when he stated, “If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 BSB).

Yet, the temptation to listen to the sage advice of the worldly wise is always there. If we’re not careful, we can easily find ourselves focusing our attention on the things of this earth, rather than the things of heaven. And, as a result, we end up living like the people of this world. We seek comfort and contentment from the things this world offers.

Mr. Worldly Wiseman attempted to get Christian to settle in the village of Morality “where there are houses now stand empty, one of which thou mayest have at reasonable rates: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy.” He tempted him with comfortable accommodations, ample material goods to meet his needs, and a life of happiness. But his advice runs counter to that of Paul, who said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven” and “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”

As the old hymn so aptly states:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

(Songwriter: MARY REEVES DAVIS© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

As citizens of heaven, we are to constantly remind ourselves that this world is not our home. It is a temporary assignment. We are strangers in an alien land. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are to remember that our final destination is the Promised Land. The wilderness was not intended to be their home. And while God met all their needs while they were in the wilderness, He had far greater things in store for them on the other side of the Jordan River.

How easy it is to forget that what God has prepared for us is far better than what the world offers us. The things of this world are temporary and destined for the trash heap. They can’t hold a candle to the glorious future God has in mind. And the apostle John warns us to avoid a love affair with this world and all it offers. His advice stands in direct opposition to that of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This world is fading away, along with all the things it offers us that are nothing more than poor counterfeits to the glories awaiting us heaven. But the worldly wisemen of our day would have us believe something quite different. They want us to believe that by focusing our sights on this world, we will get the blessings of heaven in this life. But John Bunyan, speaking through his character, Evangelist, paints quite a different picture. Evangelist warned Christian about the dangers lying behind the message of Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

The man that met thee is one Worldly Wiseman: and rightly is he so called; partly because he savours only the doctrine of this world (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to Church) and partly because he loves that doctrine best, for it saves him from the cross; and because he is of this carnal temper, therefore he seeks to pervert my ways, though right. Now there are three things in this man’s counsel that thou must utterly abhor:

1. His turning thee out of the way.

2. His labouring to render the cross odious to thee.

3. And his setting thy feet in that way that leads unto the administration of death.

As the psalmist wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV). By focusing all our attention on this world and demanding that the glories of heaven be experienced in this life, we take our eyes off the prize. We miss the point of our salvation. God didn’t save us so that we might enjoy our best life now, but so that we might experience the fully glorified, sin-free, and righteousness-filled life He has in store for us in the age to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Misdirected Effort

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:12-21 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s post, our faith in Christ is meant to be practical and visible. It should show up in the way we live our lives and give proof of the Spirit’s presence within us. Our faith can manifest itself in the fruit of the Spirit flowing out from us and through the supernatural abilities with which He has gifted us. Leading and loving are both evidence of the Spirit’s presence. His power can show up in the capacity to provide spiritual nourishment to God’s people or by meeting their physical needs with food, clothing, and shelter. But regardless of what we do, we are to recognize that we do it in the strength of the Spirit of God and for the glory of God.

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 4:11 BSB

But there is another important factor that should influence what we do, and Paul addresses it in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

There is little debate over the fact that Paul was a man on a mission. He was driven. He was almost obsessive-compulsive in his desire to obey the command of Christ to carry the gospel message to the Gentiles. He had done so in the face of all kinds of obstacles, including shipwreck, beatings, a stoning, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, and constant opposition to his message and ministry. But, like the Energizer Bunny, he just kept going and going. But why? What was his motivation? How did he manage to maintain his enthusiasm and not lose hope when faced with constant threats to his life and the unceasing attacks on the churches he had worked so hard to plant?

He provides us with the answer in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. And it is in the form of a personal glimpse into his own approach to his spiritual life and ministry.

First of all, Paul admits that he ’s a work in process. He’s not some kind of religious rock star or spiritual superhero. In fact, he confesses to the Philippians, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). When it came to spiritual maturity, Paul flatly denied that he had “arrived.” Instead, he tells the Philippians, “I press on.” Then he claims to be “straining forward to what lies ahead.” Paul had an objective in mind. But what was it? Was he attempting to achieve a state of fully realized spiritual maturity in this life? Did he believe that he could somehow work his way toward sinless perfection this side of heaven?

The answer is no. Look closely at his choice of words. He said that he was “straining forward to what lies ahead.” He claimed to be pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul had an objective in mind. He lived with a sense of purpose that was based on a well-defined outcome or destiny. Some might way that Paul lived with his eyes set on heaven, but I think there was more to it than that. Look at how he describes his goal for living.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NET

Paul had been around long enough to know that the Christian life, this side of heaven, was going to be marked by suffering. But he also knew that the end result of any suffering we experience in this life was nothing when compared to our future glorification or resurrection. Which is exactly what he told the believers in Rome:

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

For Paul, this life was temporary. It was a path that led to a preferred future in a much better environment. And he lived with the reality of that future constantly on his mind and permanently in his line of sight.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

Paul lived with the end in mind. He viewed the Christian life like a race or a journey. In race, each runner has his eye focused on the finish line. They share a common objective. Every one of them is running with the finish line as their final objective. Not all will win, but they all need to run in order to complete the course. And Paul used this racing analogy to encourage the Corinthian believers.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Paul was a man who ran to win. He understood the reason behind Jesus’ calling of him. Yes, he had been called to be an apostle, a messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. But, more importantly he had been called so that one day he might experience the sinless perfection promised to him by Jesus Christ and made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross. Which is why Paul said, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). Glorification is God’s goal for every believer, so it should be our goal as well. We should settle for nothing less than that for which Jesus Christ died, our ultimate transformation into His likeness, complete with a glorified body and a sinless, perfectly holy character.

This entire passage is like a donut. Verses 12-17 and 20-21 surround verses 18-19. Those two verses form a kind of hole in the passage in which Paul places a negative example for the Philippians to avoid. In verse 17, Paul invites the Philippians to imitate him and to learn from anyone else in the church who follow his example. But then he warns of another group within the church whose behavior was not to be emulated. He describes these people in harsh terms, calling them “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 ESV). That’s not exactly politically correct terminology. But Paul sees these individuals as dangerous because their behavior was actually anti-gospel. Their lives were focused on the wrong thing. Rather than fixing their eyes on the prize to come, they were looking to enjoy all their blessings in this life. That is what Paul means when he states that “their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). They were all about satisfying their physical desires and appetites. They wanted to good life in this life, not the one to come. They wanted heaven on earth.

Rather than recognizing that Jesus had died so that they might live with the end in mind, with their hopes focused on their future glorification, they preferred to live in the moment. They lived with their minds set on earthly, rather than as citizens of heaven. And Paul states that “their end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). In other words, what they had chosen to pursue was not going to produce what they were expecting.

But Paul reminds the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven. That is their destiny and their final destination. But Paul is emphasizing much more than a change of address. He is stressing a change that will take place in our nature.

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is the objective. It is what God has in store for each and every believer and Paul would have us live our lives with that end in mind. We will not achieve that glorious state in this life, but if that is what God has in store for us, shouldn’t we make that our life’s focus? Wouldn’t it make sense to run the race with the actual finish line in mind? If not, we will run aimlessly, focusing our energies on the wrong goals and wondering why the promised prize remains beyond our grasp.

Yes, we have been saved, but as Paul reminds us, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is coming back one day and He will finish what He started. He will complete what He began. And we are to live with that end in mind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Fruitful Faith

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? – James 2:14-2 0NLT

Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the Christian life would be impossible to pull off. Not only that, without the Holy Spirit, the hope of anyone becoming a Christian would be impossible. It is only by the work of the Spirit that anyone is transformed from darkness to light, from death to life, and from condemned sinner to forgiven saint. Paul told Titus that prior to the Spirit’s divine help, “we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. ” (Titus 3:3 NLT). And Paul followed up this less-than-flattering portrait of our pre-salvation condition with some very good news.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:4-6 ESV

God saved us, out of His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit was made possible because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. His perfect obedience to the will of His Father, demonstrated by His incarnation and, ultimately, His crucifixion, is what made the Holy Spirit available to sinful men and women. And it is the Holy Spirit who gives new life to those dead in their trespasses and sins, enabling them to see for the very first time the wonderful gift of God’s grace as expressed through the sacrifice of His own Son for the sins of mankind.

Yet, the Spirit is often treated like the red-headed stepchild of the Trinity. We can easily overlook His significance and underappreciate His role in our spiritual lives. Or we can over-emphasize those aspects of the Spirit’s presence and power that are more flamboyant and fantastic. The gifts of the Spirit can suddenly become our primary focus, causing us to seek those gifts that come with greater authority, increased visibility, and that give us an air of superior spirituality. This was the problem Paul confronted among the believers in Corinth.

It seems that the congregation in Corinth was using the gifts of the Spirit as a litmus test for measuring spirituality. There were those who were guilty of viewing their particular gift as a badge of honor, rather than seeing it as an undeserved byproduct of the Spirit’s presence within them. And those who had the more flamboyant and visible gifts, such as tongues or prophecy, were wrongly assuming that their more spectacular gifts were proof of their superior spirituality. But Paul corrected this misperception.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NLT

Each and every gift present within the church in Corinth had been given by the Spirit, based on His divine determination alone. It had nothing to do with the spirituality of the one receiving the gift. And just as with the fruit of the Spirit, the spiritual gift given by the Spirit was not intended for the blessing of the recipient.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT

And every gift was necessary. There was no particular gift that carried greater weight or worth. The gifts, made possible by the Holy Spirit and meted out at His discretion, were intended to bless the body of Christ, not the individuals who possessed the gifts.

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. – 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying here. Notice how many times he writes, “the Spirit gives.” There is no indication that any of the gifts are given based on merit. No, Paul states that it is the Spirit who distributes all these gifts and He alone decides which gift each person should have. It’s not based on personality, spirituality, or inherent capability. It is a gift, and it is intended for the well-being of the body of Christ.

So, what does this any of this have to do with the words of James concerning faith and works? Paul is talking about gifts given by the Spirit, and James seems to be talking about practical expressions of faith. Paul mentions such things as tongues, prophecy, healing, wisdom, and discernment, but James focuses on what appear to be more mundane and practical expressions of faith like sharing food or clothing with a brother or sister in need.

But there is a common thread between these two passages, and it has to do with our outward behavior. Both men are dealing with the outer expressions of our inward faith. Paul is discussing spiritual gifts, and James is dealing with practical manifestations of faith. And both men would strongly assert that any hope we have of doing either is based on God, not us. As Paul told the church in Philippi: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).

And James told the believers to whom he wrote, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (James 1:5 NLT). James wanted them to know that God was the source of all their needs. Which is why he reminded them, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17 NLT).

Both of these men are dealing with the reality of the Spirit’s presence within us flowing out of us in practical ways that end up blessing all those around us. For James, the declaration of faith in Christ that wasn’t accompanied by Christ-like behavior was worthless. It wasn’t true, saving faith. Because saving faith results in the Spirit’s presence and power. And that power is practical, producing spiritual fruit that blesses all those around us and gifts that minister to the body of Christ. And not only that, the power of the Spirit is evidenced by the simple, yet practical ways in which we love and care for those around us.

James will not allow us to over-spiritualize our faith. He will not let us become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Which is why he uses a very practical, real-life illustration to keep us grounded.

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? – James 2:15-16 NLT

In Corinth, the believers were bickering over who had the most important spiritual gift. They were jockeying for position within the church based on what they believed to be the perceived importance of the various gifts. And, in doing so, they were missing the point entirely.

James was dealing with people who were putting way too much emphasize on their displays of religiosity. They were consumed with impressing one another and intent of giving the appearance of spirituality. But James wouldn’t let them get away with it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:26 NLT

They were guilty of showing partiality by showing preference for the haves over the have-nots. In doing so, they were violating the royal law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 NLT).

The practice of partiality, the desire for prominence, the jockeying for spiritual stature, and the fruitlessness of faith are all constant dangers we face as believers. And Paul and James would both have us understand that any hope we have of avoiding these pitfalls is an awareness of our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. He has given us gifts, and they are meant to bless others. He will produce fruit that is meant for the good of others. And His power will result in good deeds being done by us – giving ample evidence that our faith is real.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Filling of the Spirit

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

We’ve discussed the power of the indweling Holy Spirit. At the moment of salvation, the third person of the Trinity takes up permanent residence in the believer, enabling them to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). It is the indwelling Spirit who makes it possible for the believer to conduct their life “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 BSB).

Yet, we all know that our lives don’t always reflect the Holy Spirit’s presence or demonstrate His power. If He indwells us and His power is meant to enable us, why do our lives so often appear as if He has abandoned us?

Paul would have us understand that it is an issue of obedience and submission. They Holy Spirit, just like the Father and the Son, must be obeyed. His permanent presence within us doesn’t mean He forces Himself upon us. He commanded the believers in Galatia to “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” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

He reminded them that their new life in Christ was due to the Spirit. He said, “we live by the Spirit,” but he added, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). The Holy Spirit is the one who made possible our new life in Christ. Paul told Titus that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 ESV). And yet, this new life requires that we “keep in step with the Spirit.”

The danger each believer faces is the temptation to live the Christian life in their own strength. In fact, Paul saw the Galatian believers doing that very thing and asked them, “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). They were falling back on their own ability to keep the law or, to put it another way, on their own self-righteousness. But in doing so, they were circumventing the power made available to them by the Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was attempting to remind the believers of their need to be distinct and different from the world around them. He wanted them to imitate God and to live lives filled with love, following the example of Christ Himself. He warned them to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” and to “take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness” (Ephesians 5:10-11 NLT). They were to live as people of the light, influencing others and exposing the darkness around them.

But how were they supposed to pull this off? What would make this kind of life possible? Paul warned them to be careful about how they conducted their daily lives, and to make sure they lived wisely and not like fools. But it all sounds so impossible. So, Paul gave them the only possible way to live the lives they’ve been called to live. And he used a very interesting comparison to make his point.

Strangely enough, Paul chose to use the imagery of drunkenness to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I don’t think he wrote these words because the believers in Ephesus had a drinking problem, but because the imagery would have made perfect sense to them. They had all seen the affects of alcohol and knew from first-hand experience what drunkenness looked like. So, Paul used this very down-to-earth analogy to help them understand that the Christ-life required submission to a power outside of themselves. It was all about control. Paul makes a direct comparison between being drunk and being filled.

drunk = filled

To be drunk with wine is to be controlled by or under the influence of wine. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by or under the influence of the Spirit. Control has to do with submission to someone or something else. It is to submit to the influence of another. In the case of alcohol, to become drunk is to place yourself under its influence and control. When drunk, people say things they wouldn’t normally say. They do things that are out of character. They allow themselves to be controlled by a substance that influences their behavior and their thinking.

Paul’s audience knew that it meant to be drunk with and controlled by wine. And he uses that imagery to help them understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit. He was calling them to live controlled by the Spirit, not their own sinful flesh. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you (Romans 8:9 NLT). It’s a matter of control.

As believers, we are to live under the influence of the Spirit of God. And when Paul writes, “if you have the Spirit of God living in you,” he is not questioning their salvation. He is making a point about a positional truth. They did have the Spirit living within them, so they should have been living under His influence. Just like a drunk person can’t help but be influenced by alcohol, a believer can’t help but be influenced by the Spirit of God. For Paul, the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer was non-negotiable and non-debatable.

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:10-11 NLT

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. – Romans 8:12-13 NLT

We have a power available to us that is beyond our wildest imaginations. It is the very same power that raised Jesus back to life after His body had laid lifeless in a grave for three days. That power resides within us and is available to us. It is designed to control and empower us. The Spirit of God is to fill us and flow from us, influencing our thoughts and actions. He makes it possible for you to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 NLT). He allows you to “understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).

But we must choose to live under His influence. Just as we can choose to get drunk with wine, we can choose to be filled with the Spirit by submitting to Him on a daily basis. We must seek Him. We must desire Him. We must obey Him. We must live under the influence of the Spirit of God if we want to have an influence in this world. And it’s all about submission and control.

As long as we think we are the masters of our own fate and the ones who control our lives, we will live powerless and pathetic lives, marked by defeat rather than victory and disappointment rather than joy. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, but that life is only possible through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. But we must allow the Spirit of God to control us. We must willingly submit ourselves to His authority and avail ourselves of His divine power. When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV), he knew the source of that strength was the Spirit of God. And he was more than willing to live under the Spirit’s control and according to the Spirit’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Power of the Spirit

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14:17-19 ESV

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:13-14 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to His disciples just prior to His ascension: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8 ESV). Luke records that Jesus promised that they would receive power and that power would be a result of the Holy Spirit’s coming. The Greek word for power is dynamis and, as you can see, it is where we get our word for “dynamite.” According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.” It can also mean the power to perform miracles.

When we consider the kind of power the disciples were to receive, we tend to associate it with that second meaning, the miraculous power to perform miracles. Why? Because we remember what happened that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. Luke describes it for us:

…suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:2-4 ESV

And this extraordinary phenomena did not go unnoticed.

…at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished… – Acts 2:6-7 ESV

The crowds that gathered were blown away by what they saw and heard because they immediately recognized that the disciples were Galileans. This prompted them to ask, “how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:8 ESV).

We read this story and can’t help but associate the power of the Spirit with the miracle of speaking in tongues. And we are right to do so. But, at the same time, we tend to miss an important part of Luke’s record of the events of that day. While it’s only natural to focus on the miraculous nature of the disciples’ Spirit-empowered tongues-speaking, Luke wants us to consider what they were saying, not just how they were saying it.

“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” – Acts 2:11-12 ESV

There is no doubt that a miracle had taken place. Luke makes that point perfectly clear by providing a list of all the different ethnic groups represented whose languages were spoken by this small group of Galilean disciples. There were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. There were residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya. Not only that, there were visitors from as far away as Rome, the island of Crete and the region of Arabia.

This was a bonafide, Spirit-empowered miracle. But the point behind the miracle was the declaration of the mighty works of God. All of the people who gathered heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their own native tongue. And Luke notes, “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?”” (Acts 2:12 ESV).

This obvious miracle had a not-so-obvious intent. It had gathered a crowd and had garnered attention. Not only that, it had raised the level of curiosity among those who saw and heard “the mighty works of God.” And Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, took advantage of the opportunity and addressed the crowd, sharing with them the good news concerning Jesus Christ. And Luke records that when Peter was finished, they were “cut to the heart” and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ESV).

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” (Acts 2:38 ESV).

And Luke points out that the real miracle that day was not the disciples speaking in tongues, but the conversion of thousands of sinners into saints.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 ESV

Jesus promised power, and that promise was fulfilled in stunning fashion. But that day was to be one day among many yet to come. The Spirit of God was far from finished. And much of His work would prove to be far less flamboyant and spectacular.

Which brings us to Paul’s message to the believers in Rome recorded in chapter 14 of Romans. He has had to address an issue taking place within the local congregation in Rome. There were some disputes taking place between believers over what we might call “grey areas.” The church was made up of people from all walks of life, social strata, income levels, and religious backgrounds. There were Jews who had converted to Christianity and Gentiles who had turned from paganism to faith in Christ. And, like any other church, it was made up of believers of varying degrees of spiritual maturity.

The church in Rome had become a social, economic, racial, and religious melting pot. And, to a certain degree, it had become a spiritual petri dish where the Christian life was lived out, and the indwelling power of the Spirit was fleshed out in tangible and somewhat pedestrian ways.

Paul is addressing certain behaviors and personal beliefs that were causing conflict within the church. There were debates taking place over which foods were acceptable for Christians to eat. This had to do with meat sacrificed to pagan idols, which was often sold in the marketplace. The more mature believers were arguing that, since there was no such thing as a false god, because alone is God, the meat was perfectly fine for consumption. But the less-mature believers, many of whom had a pagan religious background, found the eating of this meat to be offensive – a kind of tacit approval of the false god to whom it was sacrificed. There were other conflicts brewing in the church as well, including arguments over which days were to be considered sacred and set apart as holy. These debates were dividing the church, and this led Paul to ask, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” (Romans 14:10 ESV).

For Paul, the real issue was selfishness and self-centeredness. Each group was judging the other based on their own particular viewpoint. So, Paul gave them a sternly worded command: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13 ESV).

These people were worrying about and arguing over which food was proper to eat and which day was right for worship. But, in doing so, they were failing to love one another. Each had made the issue about themselves. Their personal viewpoint had become sacred, and the unity of the body of Christ has become secondary. Which is what led Paul to say, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t miss that last part of Paul’s statement. “Righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is not to be viewed as some kind of disembodied force that provides power for performing crowd-gathering miracles. He is the Spirit of God who dwells within the people of God so that they might express the righteousness, peace, and joy that come from God. And the forum for living this out is within the family of God.

In the very next chapter of his letter, Paul expands on his call for corporate unity through the power of the indwelling Spirit.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…  – Romans 15:1-3 ESV

He uses Jesus Himself as an example of what it looks like to please your neighbor for his good and to build him up. Even Jesus explained His ministry in terms of selfless service, not self-centeredness.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

It was Paul’s heartfelt desire that the believers in Rome live in Spirit-empowered unity.  He knew there was no other way they could pull it off. The true miracle of the church is that it exists at all. It is a work of God. Which is why Paul asked God to unify the Roman believers and provide them the resources they needed to glorify Him together.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6 ESV

And how does God do this? Through His indwelling Spirit. Paul makes that point clear when he prays yet again: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The power of the Spirit is intended to transform our lives. The third person of the Trinity exists to radically alter the lives of those who have placed their faith in Christ and whom God has placed within the body of Christ. Our unity will not be the result of human effort, but the power of the Spirit.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records the gathering of the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. He writes, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 ESV). On closer inspection, we find that the term “all together” carries far more significance than we might think. Luke used the Greek word, homothymadon, which means “with one mind, with one accord, with one passion.” The disciples were of like mind. They had unity of purpose. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem, where they were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And it was in that state of unity, accord, and like-minded passion, that the power of God came upon them. 

They were transformed and, as a result, the world was forever changed. The power of the Spirit isn’t about external miracles but about the transformation of lives and the miraculous, mysterious formation of the body of Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson