1 Corinthians 2:6-16 – Do You Know?

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (New International Version)

Knowledge can be a tricky thing. There is so much to the topic of knowing that we have an entire branch of philosophy, epistemology, which theorizes on how we know ourselves and our world.

The Enlightenment era (18th-century) focused on empirical data, that is, what can be known becomes knowable through the verification of our senses and a scientific process of systematic observation, measurement, and experimentation. In other words, knowledge has to do with the natural, not supernatural, because knowing involves our five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

The Enlightenment project, I believe, severely truncated our personhood. It left us as mere brains on a stick – valuing dispassionate empiricism to the point of devaluing the heart and the gut. For, when all is said and done, there is an immaterial way of knowing, a kind of sixth sense, which can discern truth and reality in a manner that sheer natural evidence cannot.

If we are unaware of this other sense, the spirit, then there is an entire dimension of ourselves and our world that we are unable to discern and know. Grounding our ideas and theories in evidence-based practices is quite important. We need rigorous processes of going beyond opinions and hypotheses to actual tangible evidence. Our world has benefited immensely from the scientific process. And yet, all this is insufficient.

Without a focus on the spiritual, we limit our knowledge and our perceptions of others and the world. And if we ignore our internal epistemic assumptions which are coming from other places than our brain, we can talk and act without knowing why we say and do some things. We can be unsure why we react in particular ways or cannot quite make sense of why we keep overeating or drinking too much or avoiding certain people and places.

In many ways, a major task our earthly life is to keep knowing ourselves better and better. There is a vast inner world that needs exploration, just as much as we need to explore the vastness of our earth and the immense space of the universe.

In science fiction, Star Trek has a way of knowing the seemingly unknowable within us. Vulcans (ironically the most empirical and dispassionate beings in the universe) have a unique ability to perform a “mind meld” which is a technique for the psychic fusion of two minds, permitting unrestricted communication or deep understanding. It is a way of accessing and sharing thoughts and feelings which are obscured or hidden. It is an epistemology that, in actuality, isn’t far from reality.

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.

Philippians 3:8-11, CEV

That’s because the people of God, believers and followers of Jesus, have been given the Spirit of God. An unusual, unscientific, and mystical union has taken place in which God’s Spirit joins with our spirit and opens a whole new world to us.

There are some things which can only be known, understood, and verified by the spiritual. Incredibly, Christians are given the very mind of Christ. We enjoy an amazing melding, enabling us to become the people we were always meant to be – forgiving, loving, encouraging people who live and love just like Christ – who is in both our hearts and our heads. This supernatural epistemic way of knowing allows us to see beyond the five senses to a multiverse of senses within ourselves and others.

We can only know what God has freely given us if we have God’s Spirit within us and the mind of Jesus Christ testifying what is good, just, and true. This is a knowing beyond language and explanation. It is knowledge requiring a mind meld between the individual and Christ.

Rather than crucifying and putting to death things (and, God forbid, people) we don’t understand, there is a better way. Explore a different way of knowing. Discover the spirit within. Seek to understand the invisible God. Experience a fuller and richer way of life in Jesus Christ through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

Job 39:1-30 – Questions without Answers

God responds to Job out of the whirlwind by William Blake (1757-1827)

When do mountain goats
    and deer give birth?
Have you been there
    when their young are born?
How long are they pregnant
    before they deliver?
Soon their young grow strong
and then leave
    to be on their own.

Who set wild donkeys free?
I alone help them survive
    in salty desert sand.
They stay far from crowded cities
    and refuse to be tamed.
Instead, they roam the hills,
    searching for pastureland.

Would a wild ox agree
to live in your barn
    and labor for you?
Could you force him to plow
or to drag a heavy log
    to smooth out the soil?
Can you depend on him
to use his great strength
    and do your heavy work?
Can you trust him
    to harvest your grain
or take it to your barn
    from the threshing place?

An ostrich proudly
    flaps her wings,
but not because
    she loves her young.
She abandons her eggs
and lets the dusty ground
    keep them warm.
And she doesn’t seem to worry
that the feet of an animal
    could crush them all.
She treats her eggs as though
    they were not her own,
unconcerned that her work
    might be for nothing.
I myself made her foolish
    and without common sense.
But once she starts running,
she laughs at a rider
    on the fastest horse.

Did you give horses their strength
and the flowing hair
    along their necks?
Did you make them able
    to jump like grasshoppers
or to frighten people
    with their snorting?

Before horses are ridden
    into battle,
they paw at the ground,
    proud of their strength.
Laughing at fear, they rush
    toward the fighting,
while the weapons of their riders
    rattle and flash in the sun.
Unable to stand still,
they gallop eagerly into battle
    when trumpets blast.
Stirred by the distant smells
and sounds of war,
they snort
    in reply to the trumpet.

Did you teach hawks to fly south
    for the winter?
Did you train eagles to build
    their nests on rocky cliffs,
where they can look down
    to spot their next meal?
Then their young gather to feast
    wherever the victim lies. (Contemporary English Version)

God has a way of asking questions for which he already has answers to.

The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess. When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it has all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow exponentially.

I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom. So much more of life is a mystery to us than we realize. Turns out that those with understanding need to become stupid before they can truly be wise. Seems like the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way.

If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible. Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, “even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 14:14). Job is held up the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).

Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness his understanding can barely get a movement on the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain.

So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there… silent, saying nothing….

Then, just when we think God is paying no attention, he suddenly speaks. And what is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for four chapters God gives no answers (Job 38:1-41:34). It is all questions. God said, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).

It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding to answer anything God asks. And that was the whole point. God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective.

We just don’t know as much as we think we do.

To Job’s great credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could after such an encounter: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt.

I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to. Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend.

It just might be that, even if God directly answered all our questions, we still would not understand what the heck is happening to us.

Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Yet, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings: We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it. We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.

Anytime we try to pin God down to nice, neat, understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box.

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who God will be. “I Am who I Am,” he once said. Now that’s a God I can put my trust in.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen.

Romans 8:1-8 – The Privilege of Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (New International Version)

It is a great privilege to be a Christian and possess God’s own Spirit in our lives. There are four privileges of the Christian to take note of so that believers can truly live in the Spirit and not in the flesh (sinful nature).

First Privilege: There is now no condemnation.   

No condemnation means “without judgment.” God pronounced a verdict, and the decision is final. We are united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God does not condemn us, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other people.

Since we do not sit under judgment, believe the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. Allow the Holy Spirit of God to take the redemption of Christ and apply it to your life in a real and practical way.

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. Because you did not put yourself in a position to become clean! You may passionately believe a shower, soap, and shampoo will make you clean. Yet, if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not become clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of God’s grace, our wonderful state of cleanliness, and the lack of condemnation through reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

An illustration of marriage might help us understand both our reality and our responsibility. Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The Minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony but declares a blessing.

From that point forward the two persons must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together by intentionally doing things like creating date nights and conversations on the couch; learning, appreciating, and participating in the other’s interests and life. 

God is not opposed to effort – but to the notion that we save ourselves. Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. Having a marriage license in hand does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between the spouses.

Second Privilege: Freedom from sin and death.

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only personal struggle but an ever-present reality in the world. Unfortunately, the power and presence of sin is everywhere within people, institutions, and systems. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death refers not only to the body, yet also to the spirit. Death is a relational term. It’s to be separated from God, apart from a relationship. Conversely, life is connection, to be in union with God. 

God sent the Son. God’s Son became incarnate, a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience this saving work through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word effect practical change in our lives. 

I often quote Scripture from memory. I don’t really set out to memorize Scripture so much as I set out to dwell in it to the degree that it ends-up becoming a part of me. The goal is to become awash by the Spirit and the Word so that in every decision, in everything said, and in each action, we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

Third Privilege: We possess the mind of Christ.

The rub of the problem all Christians face, living in a sinful world, has to do with our mindset. What occupies our minds is what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the object of our thoughts is continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will have loose thinking.  If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, it will affect our mindset. Our mental choices can lead to life or death.

For example, alcoholics know they have two choices: the way of life or the way of death. The first step of the twelve steps is to admit powerlessness over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn life and will to that Power. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. Yet, in the Spirit, we have the possibility of life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and will to God. However, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life is what we possess when we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit. We hope through the power of the Spirit to overcome death, embracing choices which lead to life.

The Spirit is not some vitamin supplement to the Christian life, or a protein shake that helps us become healthy.  The Spirit is life and peace, a person, not simply a force. The Spirit brings us the practical benefits of new life in Christ. So, what we put into our minds is vitally important. It’s not about willpower but about putting oneself in a position to receive spiritual power to mold, make, and change us.

Relying solely on willpower is setting yourself up for a crash. Evidence-based studies repeatedly demonstrate that we as people tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we are not in the “heat of the moment.” We too easily believe we can handle more temptation than we can.

Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to succumb to temptation. The key avoiding situations where vices thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to maintain a humble view of their willpower.

Fourth Privilege: The Holy Spirit indwells us.

The Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian life. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. We need not live the Christian life on our own power because of the Holy Spirit. 

There is an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. It’s the indwelling Spirit that gives us victory. Christ’s life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. The very same Spirit that helped Jesus in life and raised him from death belongs to us!

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning grape preserves. I sat on a stool in the kitchen and watched her, looking forward to yummy grape goodness on my next piece of toast. I once asked Grandma, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. She answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” 

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chooses, redeems, and calls us; the Lord also has a plan for preserving us – to give us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live free from sin and do the will of God.

So, may Christians everywhere appreciate the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. May you avail yourselves of the Spirit and experience life and peace so that you will love God, love one another, and love the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Help us to live worthy of the Lord Jesus and to please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you. For you, Lord, have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.