We were on this past Monday, holiday not withstanding. If you missed it and want to catch up for next week’s study, you can watch the video with this link.
The password is: 7p$W!&@H
We were on this past Monday, holiday not withstanding. If you missed it and want to catch up for next week’s study, you can watch the video with this link.
The password is: 7p$W!&@H
Happy New Year, everyone. Last night we took the evening to look at what the fruit of the Spirit (in Galatians 5:22-23) tell us about God. Here are some notes from the study:
Galatians 5:22-23 — 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Thinking about the Fruit of the Spirit (v.22).
The idea in this passage, starting in verse 16, is that these are the things that happen in and through someone who has God’s Spirit in them, and God working with them. This is what happens in the life of someone who’s in communication with God, someone who’s attentive to God and organizes their life so that they can understand who he is and what he’s doing and saying, so they can get on board with that. This is what the Holy Spirit of God produces in someone’s life when He’s active in their life. When God is actively working in your life, these are the things that happen inside of you, and these are the things that shape your actions, so that they come out of you too.
Now here’s the crucial link to get us into what we’re going to look at tonight. What I want to zero in on is this question: Why are these the things that are produced in your lives when God is active in them? My short answer to this question is: because these things are true about God. They are who he is and what he is like. They describe his qualities. In other words, he produces these things in our lives because he is just like this, and he “rubs off” on us, so to speak—the more we have him in our lives, the closer we are with God and the more time we spend cultivating our relationship with him, the more we become.
Now, if this is true, it brings up a very interesting question. To illustrate it, just imagine that you had a friend who was really not a good athlete at all. And then imagine that he told you that he had a new friend. And then a few months later, you’re hanging out with him again and he beats you in a on-on-one basketball game, and drains a three pointer to seal the game. And you’re like, “Ok where’d you learn that?” And he says, “Oh from hanging out with that new friend I told you about.” What would you conclude about this new friend? Probably, that that this guy is some great athlete, to be able to take your clutz friend and turn him into an athletic wizard.
So again, look at the list of things in verse 19-21. One of the things that’s happening in that verse is that it’s pointing out what kind of people we all are before we are changed by God. I’m not saying we all do all those things. Probably only a few people do all those things. I’m saying we all have some of those things in our lives. We probably look down on the things in that list we’re not involved in, and excused and ignore the things in that list we are involved in, but it’s all just an indication of who we are without God. So the point of verses 22 and 23 is that The Holy Spirit can take people like that, like verses 19-21, and turn them into verses 22-23. And if he can do that, what does that tell us about God?
And when we add in one other thing, that the Bible is clear that god is infinite, and we add that to this whole discussion, then, it gets really interesting. If God is infinite, imagine what that means about who he is in relationship to each item in this list.
What does it tell us about God that these are the things that happen in us and through us if the Holy Spirit is in our life?
If closeness to God produces love in someone’s life, what does that tell us about God?God is the most loving person there has ever been. Full stop. In fact, the bible says, he is love. Love is at the core of his being. It is an essential ingredient in his Goodness. He is infinitely loving. There is no end to his affection and good will. He wants good things for everyone everywhere. He is self-giving and big hearted, holding nothing back, with no end. He even became human so that he could do the ultimately loving thing and die for us. He is never small-hearted, tight-fisted, hateful. He is only generous, all the time.
If closeness to God produces joy in someone’s life, what does that tell us about God? God must be a very happy person. And because of who he is, he must be infinitely happy and joyful. Think about that. Infinite happiness. He is infinitely emotionally resilient, not easily ruffled or offended. He is never sullen, bored, or irritable. He’s never detached or disinterested. He is eternally optimistic, excited about the future, and engaged in the present. What will it produce in my life, if I get really close to someone who is infinitely happy—in himself?
If closeness to God produces peace in someone’s life, what does that tell us about God?God is the kind of person who can take someone who is all torn up inside, or anxious, or angry, or hurt, and produce…peace. Doesn’t that sound great? And the reason he can is that He is, in himself, the most peaceful being in the universe. Nothing worries him. Nothing stresses him out. He has an infinite capacity to handle the issues of life, without descending into anxiety. He is never anxious. He is never apprehensive, or annoyed, or aggravated. Think about what good news this is—the creator of the universe cannot be thrown off. A.B. Simpson says when someone has true closeness to God, it “brings into the spirit the abiding presence of the very God of peace Himself. True peace is nothing less than the deep, divine tranquility of His own eternal calm.”
“Longsuffering” means patience, or endurance. A history of closeness to God produces, in a life, the ability to endure difficult things without giving up. It produces the ability to stick with difficult people without abandoning them. So, if this is true—if hanging out with God makes me better able to press on through difficult things, what does that tell me about God? God is infinitely patient. He has an infinite ability to put up with me, and every other difficult person in the world, for all time. And He has an unending capacity for putting up with the messes we’ve made. Now, of course, he won’t put up with our messes forever—but it’s not because he just couldn’t handle it anymore. Whenever God unleashes judgement on the world, it’s not because he finally lost control. It’s because his love and wisdom dictated that it was time to cut some situation short. But it wasn’t because he couldn’t put up with us. He could put up with us forever. Because he has infinite patience.
If closeness to God makes someone more kind, what does that tell us about God? “Kind” isn’t really a cool word. And we don’t really say “kind,” we say things like, “nice.” But “kind” is bigger. “Nice” can mean just, like, they don’t make anyone mad. “Kind” means there’s some active goodwill that goes out from the person and does good things in people’s lives around them. Closeness to God will make you like that. Because God is infinitely kind.
He is always considerate, always knows what’s best, and wants what’s best for everyone. Theologians say he always “wills the good” of everyone. He wants the best for everyone. He’s never mean or vindictive or tight-fisted. He wants everyone to be happy, healthy, and whole, forever. He wants the planet clean and healthy, and all the animals doing good, and men and women enjoying it and living full lives, forever. He wants you to be able to overcome trials and know that you’re loved and he wants you to be close to him—so you can be full of life…
This word means “positive moral quality characterized by interest in the welfare of others.” If closeness to God makes someone “good,” what does that tell us about God? God is infinitely good. He is never evil, he doesn’t have a dark side, or skeletons in his closet. In our culture, we’ve lost the ability even to create characters like that, or imagine anyone like that. But God is like that. He doesn’t have a quick temper or a pet vice or a secret bad habit he nurses. You’ll never catch him being someone other than he’s always shown himself to be. He doesn’t love things that are mean or things that break people down or ruin things. He only builds, grows, heals, cleans, and loves. When he’s around, things are good! Things work. Things live and grow. People get fixed. He’ll never do you wrong—only good things come from knowing him. In fact, he’s so good, his presence will heal the whole world. He’s infinitely good—he’s going to heal the whole universe.
If closeness to God makes someone more faithful—more consistent, and better to depend on, what does that tell us about God? God is infinitely faithful. He never lets anyone down, and never has. He doesn’t have limits. He doesn’t get tired and give up. He doesn’t get discouraged. You can depend on him forever, for anything. You can bank everything on him, and he’ll always come through. He never lies, never drops the ball, never changes course on a whim. He’s the same today that he was yesterday. And he’ll be the same tomorrow.
Closeness to God will make you more gentle. Why? Because God is infinitely Gentle. Think about that. What does that even mean? Here’s a quote about what the word means here: Gentleness is “the flavor someone gives off when they’re not overly impressed by a sense of their own importance—humility, courtesy, meekness.” God, the most infinitely important being in the universe, the most infinitely strong being in the universe, is infinitely…gentle. He’s completely able to control his own strength in order to make it do good things. He knows how to handle delicate situations, and fragile people. Even with all his power and importance, he doesn’t have a craving to impress—think of Jesus, saying, “I am meek (that’s the same word) and lowly at heart.” Jesus is a human picture of God’s infinite gentleness.
Closeness to God will make you a more self-controlled person. God is infinitely self-controlled. He’s always completely in command of his emotions, and his actions. He never lashes out in anger, or reacts in hurt or selfishness. Whenever he does something, it is infinitely thought through, and completely in keeping with his love and wisdom.I don’t know about you, but thinking about God this way makes me want to worship him.
A lot of us have been let down by a lot of people. The people closest to us have failed to be what they should have been. But here’s the good news: there is a being who’s closer to you than your dad—because he made your soul. He’s more powerful than the president. He’s wiser than your teachers and coaches. And he sticks closer than a brother—because he’s God. And that means he’s infinitely loving, and joyful, and peaceful, and patient, and kind, and god, and faithful, and gentle, and self-control. Want the good news? Good news—that’s God. That’s who made you. That’s who invites you to walk with him. That’s who tells you that sin and death only separate you from his goodness.
The more we look at him, the more we want to know him, and the more we worship him.
On Monday night we continued our study of the book of Proverbs by looking at what God’s wisdom tells us about our hearts. Here are the notes:
1. Wisdom about your heart begins with understanding how important your heart is. The Heart is the center of who you are.
20 My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; 22 For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh.23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
The idea of v.23 is that everything you do comes from your heart. So if you ask God, “what’s the big deal about my heart?” He’ll say something like, “Well, it runs your whole life.” Bruce Waltke, in his commentary on Proverbs, paraphrases the last half of verse 23 as “the heart is the source of all your behavior.” “The heart,” he says, “governs all activity.”
Here is the extended quote from Waltke on the word “heart” in Proverbs:
This word—“Heart (leb/lebab) is the most important anthropological term in the Old Testament, but the English language has no equivalent. It occurs 46 times in Proverbs and 858 times in the OT…The ancients attributed the body’s functions to the heart…The heart in biblical anthropology controls the body, its facial expressions, its tongue, and all its other members. The Old Testament also attributes the psyche’s functions to the heart. No other English word combines the complex interplay of intellect, sensibility and will…The Lord, who knows the heart, experiences all of its emotions. The heart also thinks, reflects, and ponders. As the eyes were meant to see and the ears to hear, the heart is meant to discern and prompt action…it is the inner forum where decisions are made. Then, too, the biblical writers attributed spiritual functions to the heart; it accepts and trusts in the religious sphere. The heart feels all modes of desire, from the lowest physical forms, such as hunger and thirst, to the highest, spiritual forms, like reverence and remorse…[The] direction or bent of the heart determines its decisions and thus the person’s actions.” [Waltke on Pr 4:23, Proverbs. 90-91]
And this is what New Testament scholar R.T. France says about the idea of the heart in the New Testament:
“’Heart’ is the term most commonly used in biblical literature for the essential personality. Whereas in English ‘heart’ tends to connote emotion, in both Hebrew and Greek it conveys equally, and perhaps more strongly, the spiritual and intellectual processes, including the will. It refers to what makes people what they really are, their individuality.” [France on Mark 7:19, Mark]
So there is such a thing as a crucial part of you. It’s not true that nothing really matters, or that everything matters the same. Your heart matters. And in some ways, it’s more important than other things.
2. Therefore, if we are wise about our hearts, we will do two things:
First, (v. 21) We will “keep” the wise words of the scriptures “in our hearts.” This could go with Josh’s study last week. He was talking about how Proverbs teaches us to get wisdom—and this would have to be part of that. Proverbs 2:1 says “treasure my commands within you,” that’s along the same lines of thinking. What these kinds of thoughts point to is the fact that one of the first wise things we can do for our hearts is to stock our hearts with wise words. God likes this kind of imagery. He returns to it several times through the scriptures—this idea that one of the best things we can do is to fill our hearts with his words. Questionà will you do this? Do you do this? Do you give real time and effort and thought (and heart) to making sure your heart is continually stocked with God’s word? Is it on auto-order? Are you reading and listening and studying and discussing God’s words with others—so that when you need wisdom in life, you’ve God a heart full of God’s wisdom, and then, wisdom is what flows out of you? That’s the first bit of wisdom about our hearts that we can easily apply.
Second, (v.23) We will “keep (guard) our hearts.” What does this mean? Possibly you guard your heart by “stocking” your heart with God’s wisdom (v.21)? Possibly it is by doing the things listed in 4:24-27?
24 Put away from you a deceitful mouth, And put perverse lips far from you. 25 Let your eyes look straight ahead, And your eyelids look right before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. 27 Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil.
So guarding our hearts has to do with what actions we take to make sure that the center of who we are—our inner environment where our thoughts and emotions live—that that part of us is full of God’s words. And, we see in verses 24 through 27, it also has to do with understanding that our hearts are the source of all our actions. If you look at those verses, they’re describing the things that we do with our lives—how we talk, where we look, what we want, where we go—and all those things come from our hearts.
Wise men and women hear the bible tell them to guard their heart guard their hearts, and they listen to those words, because they understand how important the heart is—they’ve let the wisdom of the bible tell them what’s true about themselves—that the heart is the center of who we are, and because humans are the kind of creatures whose actions are determined by what’s in their hearts, what flows out of our lives is determined by what lives in the center of our being.
And that means that no one can ignore their heart or neglect the bible’s wisdom about their heart without heading towards life-disaster. It’s that crucial. And that’s exactly how Proverbs talks about all these things.
3. Wisdom understands that the heart can be made to do things. It can be “applied” to understanding.
My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding;
We have this idea today—an idea that’s dominating our whole culture—that whatever is inside of you is just this fixed thing. You have feelings and desires and thoughts about yourself, and that’s just it. You can’t help it, you can’t change it, it’s who you are, and you’ve just got to go with it. In fact, going with it is the best thing for you. The healthiest thing is to just to use your body to do whatever your heart wants. Let your heart lead and make the rest of you get in line. That’s the thinking a lot of people are into these days. And there’s this kind of weird idea of domination—like—it’s inevitable, resistance is futile, you will lose in the end, so just give in now.
But wisdom tells us the opposite of all that. You’re not a slave to your heart. You can be, and should be, in command of it. This is huge to say in our day! You can make your heart do things. Wisdom instructs us to “apply” our hearts to really understanding things. Think about how revolutionary that would be if people could get a hold of that concept today.
But then—doesn’t thinking that kind of make you realize immediately that, even if everyone knew that you could make your heart do things, in the end, we’d find out that, what many people want is to be led around by their hearts—and especially, by their appetites? When freedom shows up, do we want it? Or would many of us choose slavery to our own desires?
4. Wisdom understands the foolishness of two big ideas in our culture:
Trusting your heart is foolishness. Wisdom will lead you to beware of trusting your heart. See Proverbs 28:26 — “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.” Proverbs 28:26 keeps pushing us in the counter-cultural direction we saw in chapter 2. And when you realize what a huge, tragic thing foolishness really is—and all the destruction and loss and heartbreak it causes—you see how much our culture has decided to push against wisdom. In fact, we’ve taken this exact foolishness (from Proverbs 28:26) and made it our main motto. We’ve decided that the crowning achievement of our wisdom is to preach that everyone should follow their heart, and yet, God takes half a sentence and declares that idea foolishness. The second half of this verse hints at why—there is a kind of “deliverance” that every human needs, and as you read Proverbs, it turns out that what we need to be delivered from is the effects of our foolishness and the judgement of God on foolishness and sin. If our hearts aren’t full of wisdom, and submitted to wisdom, and instructed by wisdom, they’ll lead us straight into this destruction and judgement.
Delighting only in expressing your heart is foolishness. Wisdom will lead you to be careful in expressing your heart. See Proverbs 18:2 — “A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart.” This another piece of totally counter-cultural wisdom in Proverbs. And I think it’s just as shocking as 28:26. So if we listen to God’s wisdom, we won’t trust our hearts, and, we won’t be all about expressing our hearts. We won’t make it our life goal or ambition. We’ll learn to see the foolishness of making expressing ourselves such a big deal. In fact, what wisdom will probably teach us is that, if our hearts aren’t full of wisdom, then all we have to express is foolishness anyway, that same foolishness that lives inside our hearts and makes trusting them a bad idea. And so wisdom will teach us to restrain our hearts.
5. Wisdom is: taking God’s words and writing them on your heart. This is the way to be able to “trust in the Lord with all your hear.”
My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
So we’re finishing up with a little recap here. Like we saw in chapter 1, wisdom about our hearts includes making it a life project to get a heart full of wisdom—and here’s another way to say it. In fact, maybe what we can say after we’ve read and thought about all these verses is that training our hearts to trust in the Lord… is how we learn to apply them to wisdom. Memorize the things God’s says. Concentrate on actually living them out. And train yourself to be alert—notice when your heart is not trusting the lord—and bring it back (like a dog on a leash) to trust in God.
Use the words of God to corral and direct your heart into faith. Leash train that heart! Make the words of God your heart’s tether. Use them to redirect your heart off the path of foolishness that Proverbs warns us about, and back onto the path of wisdom. Now, if our hearts are full of the wisdom of people who don’t know God, or if they’re full of our own thoughts and wants, then this kind of language can sound unrealistic or old-fashioned. That’s the difference between a heart fed on God’s wisdom and a heart that’s not. A heart full of God’s words learns to develop a taste for true wisdom—because it leads us to God. Wisdom always leads us to God. And a heart that is with God finally has what our hearts most deeply need—fullness, wholeness, and eternal life.
Last night’s study was centered around this idea: We do not live by feelings, but by conviction. Here are the notes:
Question: How do I know what is real? Specifically, how do I know what is real about God—how do I know if God is real? And how do I know him if he is? And how do I know God is with me? How do I know that the things that the Bible says about God are real? In America, feelings, including visceral experience, are considered the ultimate proof that something is real. But consider: how many of us struggle because we don’t sense or “feel” God’s presence? …and consider this: if I suggest that you don’t need to feel God’s presence, for a lot of people that immediately makes their minds think that I’m trying to pull one over on you, that I’m going to suggest that you just take someone’s word for it without any proof…and the proof would be—that you really feel it?
For instance, in the Bible, God says:
He exists. He is God. He made the earth.
He is everywhere. He is close.
He made me.
He hears my prayers. He cares about my life.
He is working out his plan for the whole world.
So how do I know if all of this is true? A lot of people talk like the way they know these things is that they have a constant feeling of God’s love, or a visceral sense of God close by, or they hear God speaking all the time. But what about if and when you don’t feel these things. A lot of times we just conclude that…well, either it’s all fake, and those people are lying or just fooling themselves or whatever, or that maybe it’s real for those other people but for some reason it’s not real for me, so…I’m done with all of it. Maybe God doesn’t love me. Maybe I’m not chosen. Maybe I’m just spiritually dull. Who knows?
But what if the issue has to do with how we’re trying to know what’s real? Because of course, the bible does not say that our feelings are the ultimate proof of something. In fact, it seems to indicate just the opposite. Consider verses like these…
Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:5-10)
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26 )
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
The bible does not say that our feelings, or even our senses, are the ultimate proof that something is true. It points in a different direction:
The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:1)
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
God’s word is ultimate proof. If he says it, it is true. And if he says it, it’s because it is true, and he never lies.
So here’s the crucial question: How can I know that? How can I know it’s true? How can it go from being true out there to being something that I am aware of as true? How can I connect to this truth or be convinced of this truth?
Now, the bible is very clear that one day soon, when Jesus returns, and puts everything in the world right, we will have all the experience we could ever need. Every sense, and all the emotions and feelings inside, will be flooded with the reality of everything God every promised. Why isn’t that happening now? The bible says it’s because God is allowing humanity to have its way for a time—and typically our way is to ignore God, deny him, create lies that obscure his truth, offend his Spirit with sin—in other words, all of humanity is on a quest to drive God away from our consciousness. And so that creates a world where we’re all influenced by these things, and it becomes a battle to know God and hear his voice amidst all the noise and lies. So it’s not that God is anti-experience, but it’s that right now, we can’t rely on experience or feelings as our ultimate proof, because there is so much to mess up our ability to know God. That’s the issue.
So, for today, if feelings are not my ultimate proof, what is? The Bible’s answer is that there is something deeper than feelings. It lives at a deeper level in our souls. The bible talks about it in a few different ways. For instance:
[we are part of Christ’s house] …if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (This is the Greek word “Katexo” (hold fast).)
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (In these last two verses the Greek word “Krateo” (grasp, hold fast) is used.)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (This is the Greek word “Plerophoria” (full assurance))
2 Timothy 1:12-13
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 13 Hold fast (echo) the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (This is the Greek word “Peitho” (be persuaded/ be sure).)
This thing that is deeper than feelings…It might be called “conviction” or “apprehension,” or “grasp.” It’s a deep inner rest, or awareness, or firmness, that something is true. It stands and rests on God’s word. It thinks, “if God says it, it’s true.”
It’s the hand in the center of our being that is wrapped tight around what God says. And that is how the bible describes the experience of trusting God’s truth.
God says it. Believe it. Hold it fast. Know it. Rest on it. Find it to be true.
Sometimes this inner grasp, this conviction, is accompanied by feelings, and sometimes it isn’t. But that doesn’t matter to this settled conviction.
Here’s two illustrations of this in other areas of life:
Example 1: My Wife’s Love. I don’t always feel my wife’s love for me. Sometimes I can’t even sense her presence (when, for instance, I’m not around her). And sometimes I do. But at a level deeper than feeling or not feeling it, I know it. It’s not up for discussion. It isn’t called into question by presence or absence of feeling. Those waves might toss around on the surface of things, but they don’t disturb the bedrock below.
Example 2: Deep Ocean Currents v. Waves.
Deep Ocean Currents: “Invisible to us terrestrial creatures, an underwater current circles the globe with a force 16 times as strong as all the world’s rivers combined. This deep-water current is known as the global conveyor belt and is driven by density differences in the water.” (that quote is from howstuffworks.com)
Think about this. Here you have a contrast between
1. Waves on the surface of the ocean—driven by winds, unstable, unproductive, dangerous—and,
2. Currents beneath the surface—unseen, but huge and powerful.
Emotions, feelings, are like waves. Conviction is that deep underwater current.
Now, consider a famous verse like Proverbs 3:5—Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding. What does it tell us?
Don’t trust in your heart. But trust in the Lord, with all your heart. Make your heart serve the greater purpose of your life—to trust God. Don’t let your heart lead you. Don’t let your heart be your master. Make it a servant. Make it serve your trust in the Lord. Train and bend your feelings, your innermost being, to assist the greater thing—trusting God.
Even in this life, feelings do come. There are times in the Christian life when we have awesome feelings of God’s presence. He can speak things into our hearts or even into our ears. Sometimes these things do happen. It is not that Christians are against feelings, or that we don’t want feelings. It is that we don’t rely on them. We rely on God’s word. We let ourselves be persuaded, in the depths of our beings, that he is trustworthy, and that his word is the most true thing there is.
His promises can be trusted. He is there when we don’t sense him. He sees us when we don’t see him. He hears us when we don’t hear him. He loves us when we don’t feel loved. He is accomplishing his purpose for the world when we don’t understand our lives. And his word never changes.
Friends, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
Is that something we feel?
Or do we know it to be true in the depths of our being?
On Monday night we looked at Luke 17:11-18:34, which covers a portion of what happened as Jesus journeyed south towards Jerusalem towards the end of his ministry. Here are the notes:
17:11-19 – He’s still doing miracles
This was a notable miracle – 10 lepers at once healed – notable for its power and its mercy
This issue for Israel, that they were about to reject his claim to be their king, comes up in the next section here…
17:20-37 – Two Questions about what it means for the kingdom to come
To the Pharisees
To the disciples… Since you recognize me, here’s kingdom info:
18:1-34 Three Implications of the fact that the Jesus is returning and bringing the Kingdom of God. (Three “applications” or “action items.”)
18:1-8 – The Kingdom is coming…so pray.
18:9-17 – The Kingdom is coming…so humble yourself.
…in other words, he saw himself as elite… and, he thinks God shares that opinion. He needs to humble himself.
18:18-30 – The Kingdom is coming…so hold riches lightly.
18:31-34 – What must take place for the kingdom to come: Another Death Announcement
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Last night we finished our study of some of the amazing things God did for us when Jesus came. What does it mean that God became a man? How does it answer our biggest issues?
It does, of course. When Jesus came, and said what he said, and did what he did, it solved ten thousand problems–literally every issue we have as humans. Which means that whatever ten or twenty big things we’re thinking about right now–whatever pressing questions we have in our generation–Jesus is the answer for those things too. Last night we took a few minutes to look at how the Incarnation addresses our anxieties over the future–especially the kind of anxiety over global events, and how my life will be affected by the big things I see in the news. Here are the notes:
Notice that Jesus Called Himself “the Son of Man.” See Matthew 8:20, 9:6, 12:8, 12:40,16:13, 17:22-3, 20:28.
What was he referring to? The prophecy recorded in Daniel 7. In Daniel 7:1-8, 15-17, and 19-25 we see all the craziness of world history and even current Geo-politcal events. But then in 7:9-14 we see “one like the Son of Man,” who takes dominion, which is to say that he becomes the absolute ruler of the world. He will come and put an end to all the craziness, he will conquer, and he will reign over everything.
Looking at these things together can address one of the major causes of anxiety: The future. What’s going to happen in the world? Where’s it all going? Is the world going to get ruined? What’s going to happen to my life?
So, How does the incarnation address this anxiety?
We know from the Old Testament prophecies that one day God will solve all the world’s problems. He’s going to conquer every evil empire, and rule the world in justice. And he promised to do it through someone who keeps popping up through all the OT scriptures—usually he gets called the Messiah, but sometimes he’s called the Son of David, or here, here he’s given the title, “the Son of Man.”
So we know that God knows how bad the world is, and he’s promised to fix it all. This alone should deal with our anxiety over the future. We should always be able to think, “OK, things aren’t going that well, but God’s going to fix it and it’s going to be OK.”
But…it’s been a long time. And things haven’t been fixed yet. And we could get tempted to start wondering if God was really going to make good on his promises. So what did God do? He ratified his promises by sending Jesus. We call it “the incarnation.” It solves all our problems. It even addresses our issues with this kind of anxiety.
Because when Jesus came, one of the things he did was to self-consciously select this name for himself… “the Son of Man.” It doesn’t just mean, “human,” or, “my dad was a man.” He seems to have picked this title to say, let’s get one thing straight—“I’m the Son of Man—the one from the prophecies.”
In other words, Jesus wanted us to know that He is this figure from Daniel 7. He’s the one who’s going to come and crush all the evil empires. In other words…God is keeping his promises…
This is big for a few reasons.
First, it’s God’s way of proving, historically, once and for all, that the things he said through the prophets in the Old Testament will happen. He’s committed to ruling the world in Justice and fixing every problem. And we can be sure of that because…he sent Jesus. No matter how long history winds on, or how bad things get, no matter what people are doing out there, we can always know, it doesn’t matter—Jesus came. God’s going to keep his promises.
Second, the fact that Jesus picked this name for himself helps us when we realize that even though Jesus came, even though he died, and even though he rose again, we still don’t actually see all the world’s issues fixed yet. But when he called himself the Son of Man, he was sending a very clear message–The fact that he got killed by Rome, the fact that he left even after rose from the dead, it doesn’t matter–We can know, no matter what, Jesus is the one we’re looking for. We’re not waiting for some other messiah. Jesus is the Son of Man. We haven’t seen him conquer the world’s empires yet, but we’ve seen him conquer death—and so when he tells us he’s the Son of Man from Daniel 7, we can trust him to finish what he started.
Third, we don’t just know that God’s going to do this, we know who the man is he’s going to do it through. We can even know what that man is like—what kind of person is he? How good and just is he? How loving, how corruptible is he? How powerful is he? We know the kind of king we’re getting, because we got to see a detailed preview of just what he’s like for all those years that he was with us living out a real human life. Today, we can read the accounts of his life—and we can get excited that one day soon this man will be king of every nation.
So here’s the challenge: as followers of Jesus we’re called to learn to look at our personal problems and worries in light of the global solutions God has promised. Whenever we worry about big things, we learn to think: it’s OK, because Jesus is going to come back and set this straight. There’s nothing to worry about. I can rest in that. And, when we’re worrying about the small things—our own lives—we learn to think about how the big promises God has already made about the whole world affect our personal lives.
Finally, see Daniel 7:17-18, 26-27. The Son of man will share his rule with the saints of the most high.
So, no matter what happens to me personally, if I’m a follower of Jesus, I can know that my small life is joined unbreakably, eternally, to the huge victory Jesus will come and win. Since he came and took on human flesh and conquered sin and death, I can know that if I trust him, he’ll share his victory with me. So even if I suffer setbacks and disappointments—even if something ruins my life (as we say) for this particular part of my existence, I have an eternal future ahead of me which nothing can ruin—Jesus is going to give me the kind of life, on a healed planet, which can only be described as “ruling and reigning forever with him.”
Notice the same theme in these passages:
2 Timothy 2:11-12 – This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
Revelation 2:26-7 – “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels as I also have received from My Father.”
Revelation 3:21 – “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Revelation 22:5-7 – There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Matthew 25:31-34 – “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’”
Finally, See: Luke 12:22-32, where Jesus says: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing… And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Notice exactly how Jesus frames the issue—We shouldn’t live in fear because we’re going to receive God’s kingdom. Do we struggle with worry at all? We need to trust God that he knows the real remedy. We need to let him tell us his solution. We have to stop running to other things: entertainment, sin, work, obsessively informing ourselves about the state of the world—whenever we get tempted to think that his word doesn’t really have the answers we need, we’ve got to stop ourselves and place our trust in the great physician…and take his remedy.
And the remedy is: Jesus came. He identified himself as the Son of Man from Daniel 7. He promised to give us the kingdom, just like Daniel said he would, and he told us that that thought could cure our fear. And every time we get tempted to think otherwise, I think we need to remind ourselves—no, Jesus is the Son of Man. All the kingdoms of the world will be his. And I’m going to be right there with him. No matter what happens, these words are faithful and true.
What would keep this from being a real remedy? Well, I guess it would be not caring about his kingdom. If the things I love have no place in his kingdom, and won’t be eternal, then all of this will be no comfort to me. Which is probably why, right before he said, “don’t fear” in verse 32, he said (in verse 31), “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
Or, as Paul writes in Colossians 3, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.“
Last night we continued our exploration of what it means that God became man, by looking at this topic:
The incarnation explains our identity and addresses our attempts at self-definition
Current ideas about identity:
1. Identity is self-chosen, without reference to others or a higher authority. We’ve been taught that we don’t have any real access to any big truth about who and what we are, so, since no One’s there who can really tell us who we are, we have to make up the answers for ourselves.
2. Identity is primarily focused on parts of who we are. (Things like career, accomplishments, talents, sexuality, interests.) Since no one can answer the big questions about humanity, we don’t even try. We define ourselves by parts. We try to use these smaller parts of who we are to define the big things about ourselves.
3. Identity is based on difference, and on distinction. Since we’ve lost a vision for family and community, we’ve decided difference is more important than connection. And so we’ve elevated the things that make us distinct from others over those things that connect us to others.
In the Bible, God doesn’t tell us to start from the small parts of who we are and build an identity from the ground up, He answers the big questions first. He defines what humanity is. Then He invites you to find your identity as part of the big picture. And then, we interpret parts of who we are by finding out how they relate to who and what we are as part of the human family in its connection to God.
So what does the bible say? Identity is not constructed, it’s received. Identity does not come from distinction, it comes from connection. Identity is unique, but it is not separate.
How we find our identity in Christ:
1. See Genesis 1:26-28. Humanity is made in the image of God. (according to the pattern.)
2. See Corinthians 15:47-49. The first man (Adam) is made of dust, and “we have born his image.” The Second Man (Christ) is the Lord from Heaven, and “we will bear His image.”
3. See Colossians 1:15-17. Who is this “heavenly man”? He is the one who originally is the image of God, now in human flesh. In all the verses, the english word “image” is being used to translate the ancient Greek word eikon. (It’s the same word used in Hebrews 10:1 – “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form (eikon) of these realities” (Also translated , “the very image of the things.”) New Testament scholar Peter O’Brien writes: “Eikon speaks of ‘embodiment’ or ‘actual manifestations’ of the realities in question.” The NIDNTT states: “In the NT Christ is said to be the eikon of God, but there is no difference between the image and the essence of the invisible God, for in Christ we see God.”
4. See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Christ is the image of God, but Satan blinds the minds of people so they can’t see it. Murray Harris writes: “As eikon, Christ both shares and expresses God’s nature. He is the precise and visible representation of the invisible God.”
5. See 2 Corinthians 3:12-17. When you turn to Christ, the veil is removed, so that You see him for who he is, and then…”we are transformed into the same image” … our humanity is conformed into his humanity. (Also see Romans 8:28 —“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”) So Jesus was the first-born of a new family. He was the first of a new kind of human, and he actually points to the original kind of human that always should have been. Being his “brother” means that we share the new family resemblance. In other words, we’re conformed into his image.
6. See 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 again. When the “conforming” is done, we will bear the image of this new humanity. “A body permeated with divine glory and perfectly adapted to the ecology of heaven.”
Jesus shows us a humanity that is:
When the perfect image of God comes and lives a human life that perfectly pleases his Father, we can look at him and say, this is what a human is supposed to be!
And, since this kind of humanity is God’s original, true intention for humanity, you could say that when God makes us more like this…we’re being made more truly human. You could also say that to move away from the picture of humanity that Jesus showed us, to reject Jesus as the pattern of humanity, and to become some other kind of human, is actually to degrade our own humanity and choose something that is less than human. It is to choose a humanity (to invert the previous list) that…
And there’s even more than simply what Jesus showed us in his earthly life.
Now see 1 Corinthians 15:50-55. The New Testament is very clear, only those who’ve followed Christ and received new Spiritual life will inherit the coming kingdom. And here it says that only those who are “changed” inherit the kingdom, and it’s referring back to the statement in verse 49, we’re going to bear the image of the new man—Christ.
This means that, when Jesus returns and becomes king, everyone who lives in Jesus’ kingdom on the new earth will have this kind of humanity. Every other kind of humanity, anything different from Jesus’ kind of humanity, will not be in God’s kingdom. God calls all of this “sin.” And sin will be expelled from the coming kingdom.
So… If every other kind of humanity has been designated by God as something less than what he desires for us, and something which is ultimately harmful to our relationship with him and harmful to others, and if it means that every other conception of humanity is already declared obsolete by God, then… It means that only Jesus’ kind of humanity counts as humanity. It’s the only one which will last. And it’s the only kind which has the seal of approval from the creator of humanity.
So if we want to really talk about identity, we have to start here…
Human identity is found in Jesus. Jesus defines what it means to be human. And we’re either moving towards this or away from this. If we’re becoming more and more like Jesus every day, we’re becoming more truly human, because Jesus is the pattern, the proto-type. So that is the answer to the “big” question of identity—what does it mean to be human? And the answer to the smaller question of identity—who am I?—is found within the answer to the bigger question. I find my identity as an individual human as I find my place in the human family—a family that is led and defined by Jesus, humanity’s king.
I am not the center. I am not the pattern or the definer of anything. Jesus is. He is the image of God, and he is also the true image of humanity. We must conform to his pattern. If I attempt to find or create my identity outside of his commands or his authority, or without reference to him, I will lose everything—because whatever identity I construct will be false, whatever kind of humanity I build will be swept away.
So many of our problems today come from the fact that we’ve lost track of all this, and we’re attempting to self-define.
Now please hear this: Christians would never look at someone who disagrees with Jesus and say, “You’re less than human,” or anything horrible like that. No, we say something more like:
“God created you to be a human, that’s an awesome, holy thing–you carry significance and meaning and intention that are literally eternal. God created you know experience his love and everything he made forever. But you’re choosing to believe lies that cancel all this out and try to make you meaningless. Don’t go there! Turn around! The Bible says those things are beneath men and women. Let go of them…they’re harmful to you. And God doesn’t like things that degrade and harm human beings.”
At the bottom of it all, Christians are people who’ve heard the message of Jesus, and the message of the whole bible, and realized that it’s better news than anything else we’ve been told about ourselves and the world. And as we’ve embraced this better news, we’ve realized, it’s not just good news…it’s true good news.
Last night we continued our study of the Holy Spirit. We looked at a main passage for studying these things, and sought to further answer the question: what happens to a human being when the Holy Spirit comes into their life? Here are the notes:
First, see Galatians 5:1 and 13-14. Let’s notice the big thing Paul starts off with—this idea of freedom. It’s pretty fascinating, once you get into it, that this is where this all begins, because we’ll loop all the way back around before we’re done and see how this idea ties some interesting things together. But just to say it—we see here that followers of Jesus have “been called to freedom.” So right off the bat we should have a question pop up, which is, what is freedom? We’ve talked about it from time to time on Monday nights. Most people would say that freedom is the ability to go do whatever we want. You’re really free if you get to live out your desires, especially those desires we feel most deeply inside.
But God knows that that’s an incomplete definition of human freedom, at best. And at worst, if you take that definition as an absolute, you end up totally missing true freedom. The bible actually says, in other places, you end up in a kind of slavery. Paul starts to address that in verse 13, where he says that liberty is not an “opportunity for the flesh.” He’s working with God’s definition of human freedom here, and so he sees freedom in a totally different light, than most people and you can tell by what he writes next.
See Galatians 5:15-26. Lets’ just examine that list Paul gives us in verse 19-21 for a minute. In verse 19 he uses the phrase “the works of the flesh.” When he uses the word “flesh” here, he generally means something like “humanity minus God.” So “the works of the flesh” are “what we do when we live out the desires we feel inside.” They’re what a human naturally does, without God’s Spirit in their life, when left to themselves. You see this pretty clearly if you connect verse 16 and 19—The “works of the flesh” (v.19) are just the results of “fulfilling” the desires of the flesh (v.16).
When you see these things for what they really are, you start getting excited about what Paul says about the Holy Spirit. Let’s break this list in verses 19-20 down for a minute. The works of the flesh are:
We know it’s not an exhaustive list because he ends in the middle of verse 21 by saying “and other things like this.” So this is just representative sample. And just to keep pressing into it, you can look at this list from the perspective of the actual effects of each one of these things. For instance, those first few words all refer to different aspects of sexual sin—in other words, any sexuality outside of the boundaries God set up of loving, life-long commitment between a man and a woman—so this is covered by those words fornication (or sexual immorality), uncleanness, lewdness (or your bible might say impurity or sensuality). When you consider what comes from all of these things, you can say that the works of the flesh include dehumanizing and objectifying each other, the porn industry, messed up imaginations, all sexual exploitation, sex slavery, sexual violence, rape, city streets and college campuses that are unsafe for women, the spread of disease, and parentless children. Or if your translation starts off the list with “Adultery” (which is included in this area), you see that the works of the flesh include broken marriages, heartbreak, loneliness, child neglect, bitterness between the sexes, and ultimately, family breakdown leading to community breakdown and eventually societal breakdown. In verse 20, the effects of idolatry include all the commitment people make to small and ultimately meaningless things, or even worse, all the love people have for evil things. Sorcery includes all of our intoxication and the neglect of real life because of it, and all our interaction with spiritual darkness. The works of the flesh related to envy include our inability to be happy for other people, robbery, bitterness, materialism and wasteful consumption. Murders are obvious—the works of the flesh include killing and terrorism. Drunkenness and revelries includes our current drug epidemic, and the epidemic of cynicism about life which leads to obsession with partying, YOLO, the general feeling of meaninglessness of life, depression, and anxiety.
I remember once sitting with a room full of young high school students—who are right in that demographic where the message of Christianity is supposed to be way too constricting for them. And I asked them if they really wanted lives full of the things on this list. And when they honestly looked at it, they were like—“no way!” When we stop and get honest, nobody in their right mind really wants their lives filled with this stuff, or their families, or their neighborhoods. And aren’t these things exactly the big problems everyone is talking about trying to solve right now? We all know these things are messing everything up. And everyone has solutions—but if you examine their solutions, they’ve all been tried and none of it’s working. God’s giving us a solution here. And it’s a real solution and a powerful solution.
Now when the Bible talks about “walking” in these things, it means living them out on a daily basis. So here it says that we will “walk” in these things—in other words, these are the things that will make up our normal lives on a regular basis—unless we’re led by the Spirit. I think that’s the implication of verse 16—the phrase “walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the Lusts of the Flesh,” can just be turned around, and you get “unless you walk in the Spirit, you will fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” So the only way to not live in verses 19-21 is to do what Paul calls “Walking in the Spirit.”
And look at verse 17. “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” That’s NKJV. ESV translates it, “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.” So if the things in this list are simply the result of living out the desires of my heart when it’s not influenced by God (aka my flesh), what that means is that of a lot of the desires I find in my natural self are the opposite of the desires the Holy Spirit has. (Romans 8:7 says it explicitly: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”)
And we’ve already seen in these studies that the Holy Spirit is God himself, so the stakes are really high here. It ends up to be kind of a bleak picture—in my natural humanity, I will end up feeling, thinking, and living in ways that are totally opposed to God, unless I “walk in the Spirit.”
But that’s the point of verse 16—the Holy Spirit is God’s way of empowering me to escape all of that. And this explains verse 1 and verse 13—the “freedom” God gives us is the freedom to not be a slave to my desires, and not be destined to live them out and end up living in verses 19-12. Once you’ve really seen what that list is about you can hear what good news this is. I think Chris said something like this in his study in Judges—the Holy Spirit sets me free from doing whatever I want. And maybe that’s behind the last phrase of verse 17.
So when the Holy Spirit comes into my life, evidently he sets gives me the power to not live out these desires, and instead, to bear the fruit of the Spirit in my life. And that’s what verse 22-23 describe: As opposed to what the desires of the flesh lead to when we live them out, Paul says, the fruit of living out the Spirit’s desires is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
There’s a lot we could say about each one of those. But here’s two thoughts:
First, I think we could all say we’d like to live in that world. Who wouldn’t want to live in a family which was totally full of love and joy and peace and patience with each other when we fail… and we totally stick by each other and we’re all about promoting each others’ well-being? What about a business or a neighborhood like that? What about a church like that? What about a whole world like that? I mean, I think I want to be that kind of person. I think most of us do in our best moments. So clearly God is offering us a better way forward than just looking inside, discovering what we want, and going and living it out. Our own world shows us that doesn’t work. Here’s better news.
Second, I think we can see is that really, aren’t these things just the qualities of Jesus? In Romans 8 Paul wrote that God’s work is to conform us into “the image of his Son”—in other words, what kind of human does the Holy Spirit make me? He makes me a person like Jesus.
When I’m yielding to the Spirit’s desires, instead of the desires of my old “humanity minus God,” I end up being a person who has love and joy and peace coming out of my life. And it’s not only the individual element that matters. The works of the flesh are what we do to each other when we’re just acting out our personal desires. And the fruit of the spirit is what the Spirit does through us to others when we act out his desires. In other words, what the Spirit does when he comes into our lives is not just make us better individually, He makes human community better—we start to have real relationships that work. Another way to say it is, since the Spirit makes us like Jesus, when a bunch of people who are all like Jesus live together, that’s awesome—and that’s supposed to be called “church.”
But I think the way to really tie this all up and get practical is to go back to where we started, and notice the way Paul began this discussion and the way he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit. We saw that he started all this off talking about freedom. And he ends the list of Spirit-fruit with “self-control.” And I’m going to suggest to you that there’s a huge connection between those two ideas that helps us get to the heart of our question—which is, what does the Holy Spirit actually do in us when He comes into our life?
If you read the whole letter to the Galatians, you get more of the story, but it when the Galatians heard the Gospel, they believed it, and received the Spirit. And we know from the rest of our studies that what happened went like this: 1. The Spirit made them alive. 2. He brought God’s presence to them 3. He was teaching them about God, and … here’s where we’re going, 4.) The Holy Spirit freed them from a life of simply acting out their desires.
In the bible’s way of seeing the world, it’s beneath us, as men and women, to spend our lives figuring out what we want and then going to get it…and then suffering the consequences. The Spirit is opposed to this “humanity minus God,” this flesh. (That’s because God is opposed to everything that breaks humans down, enslaves them, makes them weak, and messes them up). God’s Spirit sets a human free to be what humans are meant to be—and what we’re meant to be looks like the fruit of the Spirit in v. 22-23.
Right there is where we really get some insight into how God works with our humanity. Because the fact that Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit tells us something about the nature of the interaction between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. It brings up a couple awesome questions for you to mull over for yourself: Like…what does it tell us about humanity, and about God, that for a person to be most yielded to the Spirit, to have him working most powerfully in you… is freedom, and not slavery? And, what does it mean that, when we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, we are actually under the control of our selves? Here’s my shot at it—it must mean that, because of how God made us, human freedom is the freedom to be fully in control of ourselves, instead of being controlled by all our urges. Freedom is the freedom to live in true love and joy and peace and all the things that make up the fruit of the Spirit. Self-Control is the ability to be the kind of person God originally created men and women to be. When we have control of ourselves, and we’re not under the slavery of our hearts, we act like Jesus.
So God wants you to see a difference between you and your urges. Your desires don’t define you. You are not just who you want to sleep with. You are not just your cravings. We’re not supposed to see any of that as our identity. Which means that self-mastery, true self-control, true freedom, is the opposite of living out our desires and doing these “works of the flesh.” To be most under the control of my inner desires is to be most enslaved, but to be most under God’s Lordship, most influenced and moved by the Spirit is to be most free.
It seems like God wants to have words with our culture. We’re being lied to. Our culture demands that we spend our lives living out our hearts’ desires. And the result is that we have homes and families and neighborhoods and cities and a whole national culture of media and politics that look exactly like the list in verses 19-21. And it’s horrible.
It’s pretty obvious that to have homes and families and neighborhoods and cities and a whole national culture of media and politics full of the fruit of the Spirit would be better, and we’d all rather live in that world. So God says, “I know, and what you need is my Spirit, and Christians, you need to neglect and starve the desires in you that want to ruin your life (aka, crucify them) and instead allow the desires of the Spirit to lead you.”
And then in the end, you’ll reap—everlasting life (see 6:8)
Last night we continued our study of what the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit, looking at one passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. Here are the notes:
We began by reading 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. In this passage Paul’s working with a fundamental problem we humans have: we need saving, but the method God designed to save us, seems either offensive (a “stumbling block”) or foolish (i.e. “dumb” or “weak”) when we first encounter it. And it goes even deeper. The problem isn’t only one of salvation, it’s also a problem in our ability to know God at all. Because Jesus, and what Jesus did, is the way God has revealed himself to us. And if the way he’s revealed himself to us seems either offensive or stupid, then we just aren’t going to understand him…which means we can’t really grasp God.
It’s interesting, because I think a lot of people get the idea that God’s not easy to understand. But people tend think that our main problem is that God’s so big, or so different than us, that we just could never conceive of what he’s like. And the bible does affirm that God is so much bigger, and different enough, than us, that our minds can’t totally get him nailed down. But in passages like this, we see that, actually, God’s bigness or different-ness is not our main problem. The main problem we have is that, when he reveals what he’s like, when he shows us how he thinks, how he does things, the normal human reaction is like—that’s stupid! Or that’s offensive! The main issue we have that keeps us from knowing God is not that we’re small, it’s that we’re, well…evil. It’s not that we don’t know enough facts, it’s that our minds don’t work like his. It’s not that he’s Spirit and we’re flesh, it’s that we just don’t think about things and feel things like he does.
In other words, it’s a relational problem—he’s healthy and we’re messed up, and so, the more he does things for us, and shows us what he’s like, the more humans just tend to think, “nah, it can’t be like that.”
And we Christians have a problem, because, once we’ve come to know God this way, we realize that the message we have to preach runs up against all these same issues. The good news Jesus told us to tell people is actually the good news that God has come to us and shown us who he really is—that’s what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is all about. And we’re going around trying to tell people this and we meet these same reactions—some people think it’s madness, some people think it’s harmful.
Either way, we need a solution. We’re going to get to God’s solution for this, but first Paul gives us a little more insight into how God’s working right now, in chapter 1 verses 26-29. Notice the ideas here. The people of God mirror the message of God—we’re weak and insignificant in the eyes of the beautiful and powerful. God wanted it this way. He wanted the people who preach the message, for the most part, to embody the message by the way they are and the way they preach. So Paul says, “Just like people think our message about a crucified messiah is dumb or offensive, people tend to think the same things about us!”
But in verse 30 he reassures us that we don’t need to worry about all this–Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom for us.
The, in 2:1-5, we see that Paul is pressing deeper into this idea of weakness here. He says that, not only is the message one which the world’s elite think is powerless, and not only is God all about working with people in general who exhibit the same kind of cultural weakness, but Paul personally chose to apply these truths practically in his work as a spreader of the message. How did he do that? By adopting methods for spreading the message that were consistent with the ways God worked in Jesus. In other words, the way he went about spreading the message of God mirrored, or illustrated, the content of the message itself. What he had to talk about was demonstrated by the way he said it.
But look at verse 4. Paul’s turning a corner for us here. God wants us to know—even though the world of people outside of God’s family is going to tend to hear what we have to say as irrelevant, that doesn’t mean that either we, or our message, is weak. Not at all. Paul says that he himself came to them in real power. And I think it’s something that anyone who wants to spread the message of Jesus needs to learn—my life needs to exhibit real spiritual power to back up my message. Verse 5 tells us that God wants it this way—because it will help the people who hear and believe to put their faith on the right things—not cool people with a smart-sounding message, but just God’s power alone. God’s messengers don’t wield the world’s weapons, but we come with something more powerful—God’s power.
And, even though the powers-that-be think our message is foolishness—Paul says, “we have real wisdom too.”
Now see 2:6-13. The wisdom we have is called a “secret and hidden” wisdom of God (v.6). He doesn’t mean that it’s a wisdom God made hard to find (since clearly Jesus came so we could know it), he just means that it hadn’t been revealed until Jesus came, and it remains obscure to those who find it foolish or offensive, precisely because their thinking is so different from God’s thinking. Paul says in verse 8, you can tell people are naturally opposed to how God thinks, because when Jesus showed up as God’s solution, people killed him! Then in verse 9 and 10, Paul gets poetic and quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 64), and then says—yeah, these amazing things the Bible talks about, these awesome, huge, cosmic truths that are past our finding out—God has revealed them to us by his Spirit.
The idea is that, left to ourselves, we don’t have the capacity to understand God’s wisdom, or even the right qualities we would need to grasp the way he works—Only God can understand God. But this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Here’s a great quote I read that sums up what Paul’s getting at: “The Spirit of God becomes the link between God and humanity, the “quality” from God himself who makes the knowing possible…in our reception of the Spirit, we are on intimate terms with none other than God himself, personally and powerfully present, as the one who, in this case, reveals God’s ways to us.” (That’s by Gordon Fee).
So for the last few weeks we’ve already seen that Jesus taught that when we trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and makes us alive in the fullest possible sense. In other words, when Jesus was on earth, we could say, He was the way God was present to humanity. Now that the Holy Spirit has come, we can say, the Spirit is the way God is present with humanity. In this passage we’re seeing that one of the main things the Holy Spirit does for us is this work of enabling us to really know God.
This works, Paul says in verse 10, because the Spirit has access to “the deep things of God.” There are things about God, and things God knows, that are way beyond our ability to figure out, but they’re not beyond His ability to figure out, because of course, the Holy Spirit is God—and that’s the point of verse 11. “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God,” and the way the Spirit knows the things of God Paul says, is illustrated in the way your spirit knows you. It’s not identical, since the Bible never says the Spirit is the Father, but in terms of being God, the Spirit is as much God as your Spirit is you. So there are barriers and limitations to us, as humans, in our knowing of God, but there aren’t any for the Holy Spirit.
Now in verse 10 when Paul writes that the Spirit knows “the deep things of God,” he doesn’t mean some weird, out-there, extra things that only a few initiated people know—he means, the “deep things” God revealed in Jesus’ life and death—in other words, the Gospel—the things that proved to be too deep for the elite of the world that find them dumb or offensive. So he’s really just explaining how someone could come to grasp what he was talking about in chapter 1… That God would come in human flesh, that the messiah would die on the cross, that Jesus is risen from the dead, that all of that is what is needed to happen for men and women to be saved, these are the deep things of God which he says that natural humanity cannot grasp. But as he says in verse 12, the “deep things of God” are also “the things freely given to us by God” (v.12) in Christ. That’s’ pretty awesome.
Verse 13 brings this all the way home to address the issue of how Christians feel when we face opposition when we try to spread the message about Jesus. Paul says, we don’t need to worry, all we’re telling people are these things God has revealed in Jesus, and when we stick closely to what the scriptures say, we can know that what we preach is God’s wisdom, straight from God the Spirit. We’ve been taught by the Holy Spirit.
Verses 14-16 put an exclamation point on this. Verse 14 says that people who don’t have the Holy Spirit as their teacher won’t understand God’s ways. And Verse 15 says that people who do will be misunderstood. But we can take heart because of verse 16. The answer to Paul’s question there, “who has known the mind of the Lord” is—The Holy Spirit! So if you’re a follower of Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit, or as Paul says it here, you have the mind of Christ. In other words, the Holy Spirit is in us and with us, giving us God’s thoughts, explaining to us what God has shown us in the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus.
This leads us nicely into some reflection on all these things.
First, Christians, you don’t have to listen to people tell you can’t know God or know about him. We can admit, “Sure I’m small. Sure I’m not smart enough figure God out,” but—We do know him. Because…God knows himself, and the Spirit is God, and if you’ve trusted in Jesus, then the Spirit is in you, telling you about God. And there’s even more: God has revealed himself in three ways: His written word (Inspired by the Spirit), Jesus (Anointed by the Spirit), and the Spirit in you. The written word, the Word of God inspired by the Spirit, is outside of our own heads (which is a good thing for us all), and so we have a trustworthy, unchanging source of God’s thoughts that is outside of us, and the Spirit within us as teacher who applies it to us. And so even though we’re small, God is big, and he knows how to tell us things about himself so we can really know him.
Second, if you’ve already seen the logic, and the power, and beauty, and desirability of what God did in Jesus on the cross, how are you going to try to help others see it? Here’s where we tie in with what we read last week. If you remember, Jesus said that the Spirit would come and convict peoples’ hearts—he would be there with us, working to convince people who heard us talk about Jesus that what we said is true. So we don’t have to fear—If I’ve seen the wisdom of God’s salvation in Christ, I can freely tell people about it and trust the Holy Spirit to work on them so that they see it too.
Know this—if you’re going around telling people the big, central truths of the scriptures…you really can be assured that you do know those things about God, and that you’re really telling people the truth.
Third, we don’t need to be ashamed of our message our own weakness. The world’s going to heap scorn on you, but the antidote for that is to depend on the Holy Spirit (2:5), and trust in the knowledge of Christ (2:10), and preach the cross, even though it’s considered foolish.
And here’s one final challenge: Paul wrote that, even though the Corinthians were believers in Jesus, they were starting to think like people that weren’t, and they were starting to miss the wisdom of the God in the cross. So the Spirit teaches Christians that Jesus’ death was necessary, powerful, and beautiful. It seems easy to agree with that on one level. If you don’t see that, you’re not being taught by the Spirit. You might not have the Spirit.
But there’s another layer here for those of us who follow Jesus—and it seems to be exactly where the Corinthian Christians were struggling. Paul says that the way he lived his life, and the way he carried on his ministry, the way he promoted the message of Jesus, had the same character as the crucified Jesus—it looked like it, it felt like it—weakness in the eyes of the world’s beautiful people and foolishness in the eyes of the world’s powerful people. It was offensive madness. So the Corinthians might think they loved the cross—it saved them, after all—but if they rejected Paul’s way of teaching about the cross, or his way of presenting himself to the world or to them, because it wasn’t outwardly beautiful or outwardly powerful or culturally compelling or respectable, then actually, they didn’t understand the cross, and they weren’t being taught by the Spirit, and they weren’t mature. If they needed outward beauty or power, they were thinking like people who didn’t know Jesus.
This is big for us. We know we think we love Jesus and the cross. But what about the way we want our lives to go, and what about the way we want to promote Jesus?
It seems good to spend some time reflecting on this passage and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s teaching, since we know that the main thing he has to reveal, and the main way we meet God’s power, is an apprehension of what the death of Jesus means—and how the cross is the pattern for the way God works?
If you don’t know Jesus , we admit that on first glance the message of Jesus seems weird. He came and told people they were sinners and needed to repent. He said you couldn’t know God’s love unless you got it through what he did by dying on the cross. If you get tempted to reject that as dumb or offensive, maybe just pause for a few minutes and see if you don’t have other thoughts rising in your mind—thoughts like, but actually I know I’m far from God, I know I’ve sinned, and I want forgiveness and I want to be close to God. I want Jesus to be real, and I want to know him. All we’re saying to you is, that’s the Holy Spirit of God leading you to those thoughts. Don’t reject them. Don’t turn away from them. Respond and go with them—he won’t lead you wrong.
On Monday night we continued our study of the Holy Spirit, this time focusing on what Jesus taught his disciples on the last night before he was crucified. Here are the notes:
The Holy Spirit: Bringing God Near Intro:
First here are three scriptures. Note one thing about the Spirit from each of them.
Genesis 1:2 The Spirit was there at the beginning.
Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Ezekiel 36:25-28 The Spirit will be “in” you
Now, see John 14:15-17.
What we see is that, at the end of his time with them, before he was crucified, Jesus took time to specifically teach his closest followers about the Holy Spirit. Before this, when he had been speaking to crowds, or people who weren’t his followers, he spoke kind of indirectly, like he was trying to entice them to want to know more. Last week we saw that he liked to talk about the Spirit in terms of “new birth”, or “living water”—images and ideas meant to draw people out and engage them. Now, in this passage, he’s hosting a private dinner, on the last night before he was crucified, and he’s directly, explicitly teaching the disciples about the Holy Spirit.
So he tells them that He’s going away, but he’s going to ask the Father, who will send the Holy Spirit, and we learn some things about Holy Spirit here:
So you have to immediately ask, What did Jesus mean by that? How was the Spirit dwelling with them, right then? Probably we’d say it was in the person of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was in and with Jesus in everything he did. But soon, Jesus says, the Spirit’s going to come in a new way—He’s not just going to be working in Jesus for the disciples to see, He’s going to be in them. That must have rocked them! And once we see that it helps us understand what he means in verse 17 when he says the world can’t receive the Holy Spirit.
He says, “The world cannot receive him, because it doesn’t know him.” That’s interesting. Maybe Jesus means that the world is totally focused on what it can see and touch, and the Spirit (like He said back in John 3) is more like the wind—He’s not directly traceable in materialistic terms. Maybe the world can’t receive the Spirit because he’s the Spirit of truth, and there’s so much commitment to lies. And maybe also it’s connected to the idea of the Spirit being with them in the life and work of Jesus. The Spirit was in and with Jesus in everything he did–which meant that, in those days, if you failed to recognize Jesus for who he was, you were also failing to recognize the Holy Spirit, and if you rejected or opposed Jesus, you opposed the Holy Spirit. Which means that, you have to know Jesus to know the Holy Spirit. It’s similar to when Jesus said in John 5:23: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” You don’t know God the Father if you don’t embrace Jesus as God the Son. So maybe it’s this simple—when Jesus said that the world can’t receive the Holy Spirit, he was using the word “world” the way John tells us that he typically used it—which was to refer to all those people who rejected him as God’s solution to the world’s problems…and so when people reject Jesus, it turns out that they reject the Holy Spirit too. And someone might hear that and think it’s no big deal, but the more we learn about who the Spirit is, the more tragic this rejection seems.
See John 14:19-23. As Jesus got into talking about these things on that night, he started to get to the heart of the matter. They were getting upset by the fact that he was telling them he was leaving. It made no sense to them how this was going to work without him around, and to make it worse, he kept acting like they should be happy about the whole thing. And the more you read what he was saying, the more it becomes clear that the fact that God was going to send Holy Spirit is the main reason why Jesus thought they should be excited. For instance, notice how he’s trying to say that, even though he’s going away, in another sense he’s not going away. You see it in verse 20, with that “you in me and I in you” language, and in verse 21 when he tells the disciples he will show himself to them, and finally in verse 23, when he says “I and My Father will love the person that loves me, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
So you just have to ask the question: How do Jesus and the Father “come” and “make their home” with us? And even if we haven’t already started to guess the answer, I think if we keep reading we get it…
See John 14:24-26. …So, How do Jesus and the Father “come” and “make their home” with us? Based on verse 26, I think Jesus’ answer is—By the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God’s way of being with us. Gordon Fee wrote, “I am convinced that the Spirit in Paul’s theology was always thought of in terms of the personal presence of God. The Spirit is God’s way of being present, powerfully present, in our lives and communities as we await the consummation of the kingdom of God.”
Now this is where we could stop and do a whole study on the way God is God—he is god in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit in total unity of being. So Jesus would never say that the Spirit is the Father or Jesus. But…wherever the Spirit is, and wherever he goes, all of God is there—so the Son is there, and the Father is there. Or you could say, the Holy Spirit brings Jesus to us—the Spirit is also Jesus’ way of being with us.
And since Jesus promises that the Spirit will be in His followers to, this is why we say that “Jesus is in our hearts.” So, if someone said to you, “how does Jesus live inside you?” The short answer would be—By his Spirit.
But there’s even more in verse 26. Jesus says that when he sends the Holy Spirit, the Spirit “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” So the Holy Spirit is the one who taught the Apostles what they needed to know and helped them remember what they needed to remember about Jesus. This is big—the Spirit is not only the way we experience God, He is the One who teaches us about God, and He’s the way we know God. I wonder if Jesus would say that, based on verse 27, the Spirit is also the way God gives us his peace.
And that’s kind of the heart behind what Jesus says in chapter 15—it’s the same truth about God being with us in the Spirit, but with a different focus.
See John 15:17-27. In verse 26 we see that the Spirit doesn’t only teach Jesus’ followers about God, He also, through them, proclaims the truth about Jesus to the world.
Even though, as he says, people will be hating the followers of Jesus and persecuting them, he says they don’t have to worry, because he will send the Holy Spirit, who will be present, in the believers themselves, preaching to the world the truth about Jesus. In other words, Christians can’t expect to have the power of culture, or money, or government on their side, but they must and will have the power of God himself, through the Holy Spirit, on their side.
So the Spirit is God’s way of being present when we’re persecuted and opposed, and when we want to get the message out to people, even though they’re hostile to us because of our association with Jesus. It might seem like if the world is hostile to us, there’s no chance of them listening to our message, but God tells us not to worry, because He’s with us—we have the Spirit. He keeps teaching about all this in chapter 16…
See John 16:7-15.
There’s some more great truth here:
Now read Acts 2:1-4. Here is is. The Spirit comes.
Summing this up:
God isn’t far from us. He hasn’t left us alone. He came and lived among us in human flesh once. And while he did, he promised that he would be with us in a new way, and that would be permanent. Since God is a Trinity—he can do this. The Father can send the Son, and then send the Spirit. Because the Spirit is God, when the Father sends the Spirit, that is God sending, and God coming to live in us. And since God is not divided up, when the Spirit comes, the Father and the Son come too—in the Spirit.
Who does God come to this way? This takes us back to last week’s study—God comes this way to anyone who wants him, receives him, trusts in him. Anyone who sees God in Jesus and in what Jesus did. Anyone who ‘s thirsty, and comes to him to drink— (John 7:37), that is, anyone who trusts Jesus to satisfy the hunger of their soul.
And even though we don’t have Jesus in the flesh with us right now, we do have the Spirit. And the Spirit isn’t just keeping God close, and helping us be more and more acquainted with God, He is also speaking to people who don’t follow Christ—even people we know who are actively hostile to Christ. When we live out the life of God around them, because the Spirit has made us alive and satisfied our thirst, and because he keeps us close to Jesus, he is working through us and our words and actions to bring a good, loving pressure to bear, intense pressure to bear on those who oppose God.
Sometimes we wish we could just see Jesus. But to have the Spirit within and among is better, for now. (The New Earth will have both.)
Paul said (in Acts 19:26-27): “He is not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.”
And so Jesus said, “He’s been with you, but he will be in you.”