There are two ordinances (sacraments) that, as far as I know, are observed by all the variations of Christianity. These are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). You can see already that they are given different names in different traditions and when it comes to understandings and practices there are even more versions that we could look at. I am not going to try to sort these things out and tell you which ones are “right.”
What I believe is that these are done properly when they are done in faith. I think that if we and our churches were all that we should be that the Holy Spirit would come upon us at our baptism as was the case with Jesus. In like manner, when we eat the bread and drink the wine (grape juice) at the Lord’s Supper I believe we could be in the spiritual presence of Jesus.
Fortunately, God has in this case, as in everything, made accommodation for our imperfections. I believe we can participate in and partake of the ordinances and be blessed because of our obedience in doing what we are told that we should do.
Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).
The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.
To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love
I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.
All those who are justified, sanctified and glorified will live forever. I envision getting to this eternal state as involving a multistep process involving our lives both on earth and in heaven before we arrive at this final condition. The first step is justification in this life as we receive eternal spirits through the work of the Holy Spirit. Next there comes physical death when our physical body and living spirit are separated. Our bodies return to their elements. Our spirits go somewhere in the heavenly realm.
The completion of the process of our sanctification might be in a “purgatory” of the enjoyment of the presence of God. Perhaps this part takes place as we sing in the heavenly choirs and thus learn the truth about the Trinity and absorb what we need for our coming glorification. Frankly, I think instant total sanctification might be too much of a shock to our still earth-stained spirits at the time of our death and that there is a stage of spiritual growth necessary before we are ready to live as fully glorified people.
Glorification is when our sanctified spirits are joined to our resurrection bodies.
I believe we can know what our glorified bodies would be like were we to return to earth. We would be in bodies of such power that we would be as radiant as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were on the Mount of Transfiguration. We do not know what our bodies will be like when we go to live in the New Jerusalem.
When we fully exist in heaven we will be justified, sanctified and glorified. We also will be in the very presence of God so as to enjoy him forever. However, as to what our activities will be other than worship and celebration I find only hints in the Bible. Apparently, we must wait to find out about our eternal purposes, probably ones shaped in God’s mind before the creation of the earth.
Human will is a remarkable attribute. Some people can use it to form an ego so large it pushes God out of the universe and reduces him to nonexistence. Other people use their will to follow Christ and the other martyrs to death for sake of their faith. From these extremes it can be seen that there is such a free aspect to our wills that they can be used to honor God or curse God.
If we search for free will elsewhere in the physical realm, other than in humans, we will not find it. It was given to us by God and is, I believe, part of what is written of us when we are told we were created in the image of God. Our autonomous wills are unique to humans in the created universe. Every other physical part of us is shared in some way with the remainder of God’s world.
Our wills burden us with a tremendous and terrifying responsibility. We are accountable for all the choices we make. We cannot make God or Satan responsible for the choices we make. Yet our choices lead us to a final decision after the end of our lives on earth as to whether we will dwell eternally with God or not. What help is there for us in such a situation.
Fortunately for us, while our wills are free they are not beyond divine spiritual influence. When the Holy Spirit redeems our spirits he also gains the power in us to change our wills over time so our choices become more and more aligned with God’s purpose for us. Unfortunately for us, we will always a ways to go. That is why our wills are not going to be perfected as long as we live in this world and why we must look forward, I believe, in hope for resurrected bodies and minds that will perfectly do what God would have them do.
All the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us for God’s purposes. They are supernatural and given to us by a work of the Holy Spirit—not as the result of any merit of ours. Thus it is, I believe, they should be sought and received by us with a sense of our own unworthiness and a great deal of humility.
There is great controversy among Christians concerning these gifts. Some Christians believe these gifts ended with the close of the apostolic age and the closing of the canon. Others believe that these gifts should be the focus of Christian worship in our own time.
My own belief is that the additional gifts, including healing, are a difficultly for both sides of the dogmatic divide. My own experiences have shown me that the Holy Spirit has worked in my life and in the lives of others I know in ways that do not fit the ideas of either side of the controversy. It is clear to me that the Holy Spirit is with us, working in us and still doing remarkable works in individual’s lives.
This is only a small start on what might be written about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit moves in two directions. It proceeds from the Father and Son towards creation and humanity and from Christians to the Father and the Son as he acts as an advocate for our needs. I do not believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is under our control. God, in each of the persons, does what it is that is his intention. It is better that we align ourselves with that intention rather than try to persuade the Holy Spirit, or any of the other two, to do what we would like happen.
The Bible is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, I believe, also shapes human culture and history by influencing the thoughts and actions of different people, believers and nonbelievers, at various times and places to fulfill the purposes of the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is active now and can be seen by faith as he works in our persons, faithful churches and our world. I believe that the present works of the Holy Spirit can be experienced by Christians though an internal assurance of his presence in our beings and recognition of his work in shaping events around us.
We might think of the Holy Spirit as the all-present person of the Trinity. He, using the traditional pronoun, exists in heaven communicating to the Father and Son the prayers of believers, sometimes even when the believers do not know what to say. He also continually passes over the earth to do what he has been given to do in our physical realm.
The person of the Holy Spirit is able to relate to our spirits so as to bring them to new life, make them stronger by maturing them in the knowledge and will of the Trinity, and produce in them the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings God’s power and blessings to our Christian endeavors.
The Holy Spirit deserves the same respect as the other persons of the Trinity. Also, since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity that brings awareness of sin to individuals. I believe a rejection of the Holy Spirit by an individual leaves no other path to faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance by God the Father.