Is the Spirit really helping me or what?
Is it me or does the Holy Ghost, at times, feel more like a holy joke? Not in the sense that the Spirit doesn’t exist but in that it’s just not tangible? I know we have all seen or possibly participated in church events where people have had tangible experiences with the Holy Spirit. This post isn’t about that. I’m not in the mood to resolve the issues between continuationists versus cessationists today. Maybe next Tuesday. I’m not even talking about gifts right now. I’m just talking about good old-fashioned Spirit inspired living. What does that mean?
In an age where emotions have become the social barometer for all authority in life, how does one give authority to something they can’t see and in most cases don’t feel? How do I even know that the Spirit is helping me? People may talk a good game about these things, but if you ask them to explain all those one-size-fits-all evangelical phrases like, “Look to the Cross,” you’ll soon see that they haven’t given much thought to how the Spirit practically helps us either. So, now what? If I can’t feel the Spirit working how do I know that he is? If we’re being honest, when we fight sin doesn't it feel like we are on our own trying to force ourselves not to do it? I don’t feel like anything or anyone is helping me not give into lust.
When I was kid there was this dumb martial arts movie called, “The Last Dragon.” It was basically about this gangster bully named Sho Nuff who was an undefeated martial arts champion. Leroy was this kind-hearted martial arts kid whom Sho Nuff was terrorizing. At the end of the movie, in typical cheesy ‘80’s fashion, Leroy remembers something that his Kung Fu instructor told him and then it happens. Sho Nuff had been dunking Leroy into the water trying to make him submit by saying that Sho Nuff was the master. Just as Sho Nuff was about to punch Leroy in the face, this orange glow comes over Leroy’s body, indicating that he is, in fact, the true Kung Fu master. And he whoops Sho Nuff. Badly.
As God as my witness, I used to think the Spirit was like that orange glow that just lights around your whole body and makes you obey.
After a while I came to my senses and thought it was more like a holy zap, than a holy glow. I thought, you pray, the Spirit zaps you, and you walk around in a trance just loving everybody and wanting nothing more than to change the world. I later found out that this does indeed happen but it isn’t the Spirit. It’s drugs.
What I have come to realize is that in order to understand this better I have to understand what scripture says about those without the Spirit. And again, I had to realize that a lot of my problem understanding the Spirit’s work is my tendency to read the scripture from my experience rather than from God’s perspective.
Without the Spirit
I am only going to use two passages here to make the point. There are many to choose from but two is sufficient for now. We will see these passages from our experience in comparison to seeing them from God’s perspective. I know that sounds like a weird dichotomy but you would be surprised how often we gets confused because we think that God is speaking from our perspective instead of his.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2 is one of the greatest passages in scripture and has one of the most overlooked statements in it. The emphasis of the chapter falls more on verses 8-9, where the grace of God, not our efforts, is what saved us. Who doesn’t love these verses? Satan? Definitely. We could probably name plenty of others but for the believer these words are a taste of sweet humility. We did nothing and received everything. Bangin’! Now that you’re all warm and fuzzy, the part that is most misunderstood in this passage is verse one. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins,” if seen wrongly can confuse even the godliest of Christians.
Let’s start with the bible is written from God’s perspective not our experience. This is key. This is the reason why many of us don’t understand what it means that we were dead in the trespasses and sins. From our experience, we have been doing good stuff for as long as we can remember. And we have had people do really nice things for us. How can a person be dead in trespasses and sins and save someone’s life? Or help out someone who is homeless. There are people who are good parents, great at their jobs, do not give into lust, do not steal, or lie, have wonderful marriages and yet they are dead in trespasses and sins? How can someone who is functionally alive be dead anyway? I have been alive since my birth date. And what about someone who grows up in a Christian home? Are they dead too when they haven’t done a lot of the stuff that most people do?
These are the kinds of questions we ask when we interpret the scripture from our experience rather than God’s perspective. God isn’t necessarily speaking of actions when he talks about trespasses and sins. He is, definitely, but it is more than that. God is speaking comprehensively, about the identity that the actions come from. Everyone is born with the identity of the serpent as their primary identity, minus maybe John the Baptist. And Jesus obviously. Good works are only good to God when they are done perfectly. That means, in action and motive. Good works can only be done perfectly if they are done with knowledge of the will of God specifically and are done with the perfect motive to honor him thus highlighting his glory. No person can do that. Except Jesus. All good works that are not done in the identity of the Spirit are evil and sinful to God. I remember something about our greatest works being filthy rags to God. From God’s perspective, not our experience, everything is sinful unless Christ perfects it. Christ only perfects the works of those whom were chosen by God’s grace and given salvation.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 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.
This passage is just another example. These verses contrast the difference between a person who has the Spirit and a person who does not. What is important to note here is that the person who sets their mind on the flesh is hostile to God. This statement is from God’s perspective and it is getting at the motives, thoughts and actions of a person. People cannot do anything that pleases God, but they can do things that are pleasing to us. However, setting your minds on the things of the Spirit is not just about doing activities. It takes the Spirit to be placed in a person for them to have their minds set on the spirit in the first place. This is about identity. Who are you? Not who are you to you, but who are you to God? Sons of God are only possible because they believe in the Son of God. And when a person believes in Jesus, God immediately changes their identity. They move from the Adamic representative to The Christ as their representative. Then, any and all activities that they do, with the Spirit, become in honor of the Lord. Your motives change. Your desires change. Your attitudes change. Your actions change. Much of this is over time but it is happening. Then, setting your mind on the things of the Spirit is done because of who God is, not just because of what people need etc.
Back to what this all means about knowing that the Spirit is helping me. Jesus perfects any obedience that a Christian does. But the desire that a Christian has to be obedient is to honor the lord. Christians don’t want to just be good co-workers. We want to be a good witness for Jesus. We don’t want to just be good parents. We want to raise our kids so that they’ll believe in Jesus. We don’t read a book (the bible) that confronts us consistently, warning us that our actions are evil, and yet keep reading it and in fact treasure it, unless the Spirit is in us. Any acts of obedience to God are from the Spirit who gives us the desire and the ability to obey. By faith we act on that desire and ability and this is what obedience is. The Spirit is not a tangible thing in most cases. But it does produces tangible results. And, is the only reason why you do anything that you do for God’s glory