Living in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-3)

What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say, “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say, “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit. (The Message)

Summer is nearly upon us. In Christianity, this means we are entering the longest season in the Christian Year. By it’s sheer length alone, it behooves us to give it some recognition. We can only do that if we realize where we’ve come from so far.

The Christian Year

The Christian Year began with Advent – a time of anticipating Christ’s incarnation and remembering that Jesus will come again in a second advent.

We have celebrated the twelve days of Christmas, the birth of the Christ child, leading to the season of Epiphany. We kept up the celebration through rejoicing in God’s revelation to the entire world – all peoples everywhere – in having Christ’s earthly ministry of teaching and healing on our behalf.

Lent has come, beginning with Ash Wednesday and moving through six weeks of focusing on spiritual disciplines which prepared us for Christ’s death, and hopefully, our own death to sin, as well.

Then, we rejoiced in the Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, and experienced a fifty day observance of Eastertide, including the Ascension of the Lord.

The Day of Pentecost has come, as we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, acknowledging our personal and communal spiritual power.

Now, we revel in this season of Pentecostal power, known as “Ordinary Time” or “Proper Time.” It is a time of engaging in the ongoing work of the church to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Christian’s “proper” and “ordinary” work of ministry.

The Christian Life

All of the work of Jesus in securing redemption for us is directed toward using the spiritual gifts given to us for the life of the church and the world. There’s no going back. We move forward, utilizing everything provided for a godly life in this present difficult age.

Now we develop our ability to walk and live in the Spirit for the rest of our lives – working out our salvation with reverence and respect.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, MSG)

What the Apostle Paul was getting at with the Corinthian Church was that inspired speech from God always exalts the Lord Jesus – and doesn’t point to someone else, especially the speaker.

In their pre-Christian days, many of the Corinthian believers were involved in pagan worship practices which also involved some inspired speech. But the issue for Paul is less about the speaker and more about the direction of the speech. If the inspirational talk only points to self, or someone else other than Christ, then that speech isn’t from God’s Spirit. Any true divine utterance will clearly point to Jesus.

In a society which was continually angling for personal display and a sort of one-upmanship, the Corinthians were prone and/or tempted to fall back into old ways of drawing attention to themselves. But the entire point of spiritual gifts is that that they are given by God to be used for helping others center their lives around the Lord Jesus. Anything short of that is simply non-Christian.

The Christian Commitment

Which is why I bring us back once again to the Christian Year with its seasons that follow the life and ministry of Jesus. Christian time revolves around Christ. Christian commitment centers in Christ. In Christianity, literally everything has Christ in the middle of it. To do otherwise is something other than Christianity.

We may not (and do not) all hold to the liturgical year as Christians, and that’s okay. Yet what isn’t okay is going off to do your own thing by making salvation something you made the choice to have, giving some of your time, money, and abilities at your leisure, as if you’re really the one in control, not God.

The demands of Christian discipleship are complete and total. Christianity is a life, not a hobby. Christians are followers of Christ’s words and ways, not fans cheering him from a distance without getting their hands dirty in Christian service and love.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Everything we have is a gift given by a gracious God to be stewarded well for the glory and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our penultimate gift is the Holy Spirit, who helps complete a renovation of the heart so that it revolves thoroughly around Christ.

Almighty God and Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give me grace so to put away selfishness and wickedness so that I may always serve you in holiness and truth, through Jesus Christ my risen and ascended Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Follow My Example (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

This is why I am suffering now. But I am not ashamed! I know the one I have faith in, and I am sure he can guard until the last day what he has trusted me with. Now follow the example of the correct teaching I gave you, and let the faith and love of Christ Jesus be your model. You have been trusted with a wonderful treasure. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. (Contemporary English Version)

Offense and defense are both equally important in sports. And the same is true for Christianity. A good offense includes confident proclamation of the gospel in word and deed. And a solid defense involves holding our ground through following the example of apostolic teaching passed down to us.

The Apostle Paul set himself up as a both a model of Christian character and an example of Christian action. That isn’t pride or arrogance; it’s the confidence of knowing you have something of value to offer the church and the world.

Everyone needs training and mentoring – and that is especially true for the Christian life. Christianity is a team sport. Believers must work together to survive, thrive, flourish, and be faithful in daily life. We all need good models of faith to learn from. Paul was just such an example for Timothy. And the essence of spiritual formation and maturity is found in imitating sound teaching through trusted leaders.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:17, NIV)

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised. (Hebrews 6:12, NIV)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, NIV)

It’s wise and necessary to imitate Christian leaders who have a proven character. They’ve demonstrated persevering in the faith through suffering; and have done it with great humility. Such leaders also have a track record of preserving the faith through consistent teaching of sound doctrine.

This does not necessarily mean that we emulate those who are erudite speakers, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy ministry success. What it does mean is that we ought to have as mentors in the faith those persons who imitate Christ and are not self-promoting peacocks who go after being admired and praised.

Paul chose Timothy as a mentee, and eventually as the leader of the Ephesian Church, because he had proven himself as being genuinely concerned for others, and not for making decisions that would simply further his ministry career. (Philippians 2:19-23)

Timothy learned from his mentor, Paul, how to cultivate a life of service to others rather than to be self-serving; and to teach others with sound instruction in love.

We are to imitate those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone the purgative fires of trials in this life may more easily become seduced by their own importance.

However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating and listening to. 

Put in this light, the choosing and electing of church deacons and elders is important. Simply getting a warm body willing to serve is not really an option. Perhaps it could be that many young people are leaving the church, and even the faith, because they have not seen genuine Christianity lived-out with passion and integrity among those who hold leadership positions in the church.

No matter who we are, people are watching; they see what you do, what you say, how you act, and your attitude toward most things. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an example to others, or believe that ordinary people have much influence. Yet leadership isn’t really about having a position or possessing power; it’s about the actions and/or inactions you take.

All this is to say that we have to take responsibility for the quality of our Christian life. We need to be careful about which post we’ll hitch our horse to – which leaders we’ll follow – and what sort of teaching we will learn from.

It takes time and effort to learn anything, including how to live the Christian life. That life must be developed and honed. We can only guard the message and a particular way of life if we know what it is and how to communicate it to others. We’ve got to put the work in.

We don’t just get zapped by the Spirit like some divine magic trick and become automatically great Christians and church leaders. God calls, molds, develops, mentors, and shapes individuals of all kinds for his purposes. That’s why there are so many exhortations in Scripture to be an example, follow godly examples, and mimic sound doctrine. 

Making disciples isn’t like making microwave popcorn. It’s much more like the outdoor smoker; go low and slow and let the meat cook just right.

The Christian message of good news, and the Christian life, are learned. And living this life is both a skill and an art. Because of that, failure is inevitable. 

We practice anything to get better at it. That’s why we work on engrafting spiritual practices into our lives. We do it, blow it, learn from our mistakes then try it again – over and over and over again. Grace comes into the equation because we must allow people the freedom to try and fail without beating them up over their mistakes. 

No one wants to even try if they know they’ll get slapped if they fail. Of all the places on planet earth, the church really ought to be a place where folks can experiment, try, implement ideas, and learn from their failures. The fact that we don’t typically think of the church this way says a lot.

Intelligence is helpful; talking a good line never hurts; confidence is beneficial; but taking the time to practice the skill and art of Christian living takes having a model, a mentor, an example – and being an example to others.

Gracious God, you prepared your disciples for the coming of the Spirit through the teaching of your Son Jesus Christ: Make the hearts and minds of your people ready to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit so that they may be filled with the strength of his presence, and empowered for service to the church and the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Not Ashamed (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 

And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.

That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return. (New Living Translation)

Guilt and Shame

Shame is a nasty feeling. Whereas guilt is a function of the conscience, and helps steer us toward making things right with others, shame lays an unnecessary heavy burden on the soul. Guilt says that I did or said something that wasn’t good. But shame says we did or said something because I am a failure.

The Apostle Paul insisted to his young protégé, Timothy, that there’s no basis for shame when it comes to proclamation of the gospel. In fact, the Good News confronts shame by putting a wooden stake through its heart.

Shame is a vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets. But the light of the Gospel penetrates life, disintegrating shame and putting it to death.

God’s word is alive and powerful! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. God’s word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts. Nothing is hidden from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth. (Hebrews 4:12-13, CEV)

Not a Failure

From a particular perspective, Paul would seem like a failure to many. He was an up and coming star in Judaic circles, but gave it all up to follow Jesus. And then, his life was marked by continual hardship, even persecution. To top it off, he landed in prison. Ironically, Paul found himself in a bad place just for being a preacher of good. He never left his imprisonment, and was eventually killed.

Yet Paul had no shame about any of it. Rather, he embraced the suffering, the difficulty, and all the circumstances that went sideways. Why? Because he had complete faith in who he was serving and what he was doing.

A lot of people, especially church pastors, struggle with shame. Most of them don’t have “successful” ministries when looked at from a certain angle. They see themselves as failures, and end up leaving the ministry and never going back.

Our strength and our help, however, no matter whether we’re clergy or laity, is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth; our assistance is found in the Good News we proclaim, in Jesus Christ, who himself was not ashamed of being tortured and killed.

Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)

No More Shame

Christ has defanged the vampire of shame. And because of the work achieved on the Cross, we can now live in confidence, knowing who we believe, and trusting that the shame-busting Good News of grace will have it’s penetrating way in the world.

Salvation entails being delivered from something so that we can live for something else. We have been saved from the terrible grip of shame – which then allows us to live a vulnerable and confident faith in Jesus through the power of the Spirit.

Deliverance from shame enables us to respond to our holy calling from God.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4, NIV)

God chose us to be holy. He does not want us to live in sin. (1 Thessalonians 4:7, ERV)

“Salvation” is a wonderful word which needs to be reclaimed as so much more than going to heaven someday. In reality, it is the divine purpose by which God makes us just, right, and holy, forgiving our offenses and transforming us by the Spirit into the image of Christ.

Christ, in his incarnation, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension has redeemed us. Jesus has torn down every wall, removed each barrier, and built bridges in connecting us to a life without shame and with everything we need to live well.

Christians embody the life of Christ within them by living a holy life, free of the weight of shame, and boldly proclaiming a message of grace, forgiveness, and freedom from the dark secrets we all carry.

This isn’t merely an ethereal gospel; it is Good News of great joy that has real impact for the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.

O God, the author of peace and lover of harmony, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is deliverance and freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Spirit of Faith, Not Fear (Romans 8:14-17)

Come Holy Spirit, by Ed de Guzman, 2014

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (New International Version)

The distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the sine qua non – the indispensable and most essential element – of the Christian life.

Christians are spiritual people, that is, people of the Spirit. Christianity is a religion dependent upon spiritual resources for life and godliness.

There is nothing more practical, beneficial, and enjoyable than the application of biblical truth to our lives each and every day.  

The Spirit’s work is to point us to Christ. The application of biblical truth is an experience of getting to know Jesus Christ better, and becoming ever more aware and involved with God. This involvement, characterized by faith, hope, and love, increasingly transforms every area of the Christian’s character and life. And it is the Spirit who helps us do it.

It is not God’s will that we fail in living the Christian life by succumbing to fear.  

Rather, it is God’s intention that believers have a robust faith which sings with gusto, connects meaningfully and vulnerably with other Christians, and a boldness to embody the good news of grace and forgiveness in Christ. To love God, and love the world, is to have a life of faith, not fear.

The successful Christian life is characterized by:

  • Experiencing inner transformation through suffering
  • Enjoying ministry and worship with others
  • Progressive deliverance from the power of sin
  • Continual enablement to live a holy life
  • Being an effective witness to the person and work of Jesus

Living this kind of life keeps believers from yielding to temptation. Life in the Spirit motivates us to read the Bible and pray; and to live above criticism and pretense.

The spiritual life helps others discern and understand what Christianity is all about. And, perhaps most importantly, life in the Spirit glorifies God, because we are then reflecting the joy and beauty of the Lord in all we do and say.

So, why don’t more Christians experience this kind of life-giving knowledge and joy? 

It is possible, even with the best of intentions in living a faithful and spiritually rich life, to be stonewalled or crippled with fear and anxiety. And in our fearful state, we almost always produce incorrect actions. These mistakes end up becoming barriers to living an enjoyable and productive Christian life. 

Here are just a few of the fearful and/or erroneous statements I have heard as a pastor over the years:

  1. It’s the pastor’s job to do all that stuff (as if parishioners can live vicariously through their pastor and not have to face their fears of failure)
  2. I don’t need to be a part of a church (as if it’s optional for Christians; and as if I can do it myself)
  3. I don’t like reading (as if this gets us off the hook to personally learn Holy Scripture)
  4. I think (or feel) _____ (as if my thoughts and opinions are the final authority concerning what I should do or not do).
  5. That’s nice advice (as if what is heard in a sermon or read in the Bible does not really need to be followed)
  6. God will lead people to Jesus (as if I have no responsibility for involvement with unbelievers)
  7. I sincerely believe ______ (as if sincerity makes something true)
  8. If I can’t do it 100% I won’t do it at all (as if service depends on my effort, and not on the Spirit’s power)
  9. I might screw it up; others can do it better than me (as if the word “grace” doesn’t exist in Christianity)
  10. That might work for you, but it doesn’t work for me (as if certain people are exceptions to the a spiritually successful life)

      What might you add to this list? 

      What are some of the hindrances which keep you from enjoying the Lord and living in faith?  

Fear disconnects us from the God of grace, that is, unless we acknowledge we are afraid and drink deeply from the fount of Scripture, letting the Holy Spirit be our divine mentor in leading us to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant,
    so your faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5, NRSV)

Mighty and merciful God, I humble myself before you, trusting that you shall exalt me in due time. Therefore, I cast all my anxiety on you because you care for me. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all your people, along with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And may you conspire within yourself – Father, Son, and Spirit – to alleviate our fears and bolster our faith. Amen.