Monday, 6 February 2012

Putting God First Part 3: The Holy Spirit

Putting God first requires faith! Jesus challenged His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe in Me also”, John 14.1. Or to use Tom Wright’s words from his new translation, “Trust God – and trust Me too!” Remember the words ‘believe’ and ‘faith’ have exactly the same root word in the Greek. In scripture the words trust and faith are almost synonymous.

It’s not enough to say we trust God and have faith in Him. Many faiths make this claim. We have to trust the one God puts His confidence in; the one He has sent to reveal His heart – Jesus, John 1.14, 18; 14.9-10. If we fully trust God we will trust Jesus. But Jesus isn’t here with us the way He was with the disciples He spoke these words to. He is now in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father. So how do we put him first?

Jesus made it clear to His disciples, in His final days before the crucifixion, that He was going to leave them, but not abandon them. There is a difference. He promised to send them another helper – the Holy Spirit, John 15.26.

The word for ‘another’ in the Greek is helpful because two words exist. One means another of a different kind; the other means another of the same kind. If you own a Ford and exchange it for a BMW, that is ‘another, of a different kind’. But if you exchange your Ford for another Ford that is ‘another, of the same kind’.

Jesus has promised us another helper – of the same kind. This is powerful because the Holy Spirit has been given to the church to make the Lordship of Jesus real to us. In Rom 8.9 He is called the ‘Spirit of Christ’. Not to have the spirit means we don’t belong to Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes it all real.

Jesus made this clear in His conversation with Nicodemus. He had a natural birth and now he needed a spiritual birth – to be born again by the Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit promotes and speaks of Jesus, just as Jesus always spoke and promoted His Father, John 16.13-14.

"When the spirit of truth comes, though, he will guide you in all the truth. He won’t speak on his own account, you see, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will announce to you what’s to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what belongs to me and will announce it to you.”

The Holy Spirit is here to guide the church and lead the church, by speaking what the head of the church is saying. This is why in two short chapters in Rev 2-3 we have the phrase repeated seven times; “Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches”.

Jesus walks in the midst of the seven lampstands and sees the true state of the churches. But then He sends His angel – His messenger, to speak to each of them. And that message is communicated through the Spirit, for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, Rev 19.10.

Too often we think of guidance in personal terms, of God speaking to us as individuals. This happens. It is appropriate. But the overwhelming push of the New Testament is that God has called out for Himself a people under the New Covenant. They are the people who show forth His praises and who He is leading into His purposes – corporately. So our hearing needs to be a community affair! It’s not so much ‘What is God saying to me?’ as it is, “What is He saying to us – His church in this unique locality?”

So for me to put God first in my life means I listen and honour what the Holy Spirit is saying to me as an individual and to the church I am part of. In the book of revelation the seven messages to the seven churches were different. There were patterns of similarity but also clear distinctions. This is important. Each church must be true to the calling and unique expression that Jesus has called it to.

This is why there is such an emphasis on being ‘led by the Spirit’, Rom 8.14, ‘filled with the Sprit’, Eph 5.18, and ‘walking in the Sprit’, Gal 5.16. We can’t put God first in our lives without His (the Spirit's) help. He makes it real because He empowers to do what God calls us to do.

When the Bible speaks in Phil 2.13 of God working in you to will and do of His good pleasure, whom do you think that is referring to? When Paul speaks in Eph 3.17 of Christ (the anointed one) dwelling in your heart through faith how do you think that happens? The key is in the previous verse!

That He would grant you… to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, Eph 3.16.

It is all accomplished through the Holy Spirit! In 2Cor 3 we have Paul highlighting the main difference between the two covenants of law and grace. The contrast is between the law that was written on tablets of stone and how grace now allows God, (the Holy Spirit), to write on the human heart.

The failure of the law did not lie with the law itself. That is described elsewhere in the New Testament as Holy and good. The real failure lay in us. We are not holy, we are not good. We are broken, tainted by sin. We are not able to do what the law demands of us and so it ends up condemning us; for it highlights our failure.

Paul alludes to the time Moses went up the mountain and spent time with God. When he came down his face shone. It radiated. This would happen to Jesus on what is called the mount of transfiguration in Matt 17. So Moses took a veil to hide his face so that the people were not so scared. They were afraid to look at him.

They knew that to look at God’s Shekinah glory meant certain death and they were not going to take any chances, even with Moses. But in time this glory faded. Paul uses this to illustrate something about the nature of the two covenants, and specifically to the two ways it is possible to hear the Bible.

For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ, but even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away, 2Cor 3.14-16

Notice that Paul is referring to the reading of scripture here. The problem doesn’t lie with the scripture but with the person listening. Unless there has been a surrender of ones life to Jesus, a veil lies over the heart. This stops anyone from truly seeing the goal of scripture. Unregenerate people have a veil over their hearts, but that veil is removed when they turn to the Lord.

It is relationship that opens the door to understanding. The mistake of the Pharisees was in thinking that life was in the scriptures:

You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you might have life, John 5.39-40

The scriptures are important. They point to Jesus. But life is not in the Bible – it’s in Christ and He is a person. He is a living person who calls us into relationship with Himself. Once I have found faith in Him, He opens my understanding to see the real focus of scripture. Look at Luke 24.44-45,

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

Now back to Paul. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away”, 2Cor 3.16. Look at the next verse. “Now the Lord is the Spirit…” Paul is explicit. The Holy Spirit is Lord just as Jesus is Lord. This is Trinitarian theology and we can’t escape it. The Holy Spirit has been given to establish the Lordship of Jesus in our personal lives and in the church.

We cannot claim that Jesus is Lord and that God is first in our life if we are living in a way that grieves or quenches the activity of the Spirit. We must welcome the Spirit and be open to the Spirit. Without His leading, guiding and power in our lives, we will accomplish nothing. To quote Jesus; “For without Me you can do nothing” John 15.5b. And Jesus has given us the Spirit so this verse holds true for Him too.

My point is simple. The Holy Spirit is in the business of removing veils, the veil of unbelief, the veil of fear, the veil of shame, the veil of guilt. All these veils can stop us from truly understanding the intent of scripture. We hear in a distorted way through the veil and text looses its transforming power.

But where God’s Spirit is active in our lives, there is freedom. His presence brings liberty! Freedom means no veils. This means we can see the glory of the Lord when we hear scripture read. It is in this place that real transformation takes place - from glory to glory.

The truth is that we become what we behold. The more we have a revelation of Jesus through scripture, the more we become like Him. The Spirit is given to show Him to us. He effects change in us so that we become more like Him. We find ourselves changed into His image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord. This is what grace has made possible.

Here are a few questions for you to consider in your journey of transformation.
Is there a veil over your heart that stops you believing God can change an area of your life? Can you give a name to that veil? Ask a close friend where they have seen significant progress and change in your life.

Now dare to ask them if they have noticed any areas where you are defensive and less open to change. Are you prepared to go on a journey and address these issues? Whom will you allow to be part of that journey so that you have real accountability for your progress?

Let me encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you through scripture. Tell Him you want Jesus to have the preeminence in every area of your life. Be specific. Invite Him to be Lord in the workplace, in your marriage, in your studies, in your relationships, in your use of time and money. And expect change to happen!

Pray through any prompting you get and share it with those journeying with you so that you are not just acting alone. In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established is the Biblical pattern. Allow others to know what you feel God is challenging you to do or change. Their wisdom and encouragement can make a huge difference in any change process.

Finally remember that the scripture encourages us to look to God not at ourselves, Heb 12.2. Real and lasting change doesn’t happen by you making a list of all the things you think are wrong with you and then working on it. That’s self-effort. It’s works.

It happens by you coming into the presence of God where you are loved and accepted just as you are. And in that place God is able to highlight any area of your life He wants to deal with. This way you are allowing the grace of God to change you and not falling into a self-help program. Listen to James on this:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double minded, James 4.8

Notice that. We take the first move. We draw near to God, and then He draws near. He watches to see if our desire is there. Once we draw near He draws near. In His presence we get convicted. That is the time to then cleanse our hands – the things we have done wrong.

Many people get this wrong. They try and get clean before coming into God’s presence and often end up staying away from fellowship. Yet the Bible says it’s being in His presence that shows us our need for cleansing. That’s grace. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. And in that place of repentance and humility comes cleansing and forgiveness so that we leave changed and free; free to pursue a life of being led and filled with the Spirit.