We are told in many places and in many ways that Christians are one in the Holy Spirit. None the less I am a pragmatist. That is a person who when he or she sees a “Wet Paint” sign wants to determine the truth of the matter by touching the painted surface. How can this tendency work in spiritual matters? I think I have found an example.
When I started this “What I Believe” series of posts it was to provide me motivation to work on a personal project. That project was for me to examine what I did believe as a Christian. The framework was a statement of doctrine prepared by a candidate for ordination as a minister. The series has been good for me and the “what I believe” posts, not surprisingly, have had a mixed acceptance among those who chose to view them.
What did surprise me was the wide personal and geographical range of viewers who responded to my posts. There were people of different ages, different nationalities, and different understandings of Christianity. The only thing all of us share is our common humanity and our redemption in Christ. That leads me to believe that what I found in connecting with these viewers, in addition to an intense wonder that I should be so honored to share a small part of their lives, was a real sense of our unity in the Holy Spirit.
There is a song that has the words “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…” and I think I have found the truth of that. Thank you all for that blessing.
We are able to be healed of more of our sinful natures by the works of the Holy Spirit than we can improve ourselves by our own efforts. This does not mean that we cannot do better in expressing the temperaments we have been given by exercising our self-control. What it does mean is that we can only go so far on our own.
Recently I read of an encounter between Charles Spurgeon, a famous English preacher, and a man who claimed to have achieved perfection. Spurgeon then stepped on the man’s toe and found that his perfection was incomplete.
What healing of our human natures we produce on our own will always be precarious. What we need is healing by the Holy Spirit that not only removes the wrong behaviors but eliminates our wrong desires. Our need is particularly strong in the area of addictions.
Addiction may be defined as a desire that overcomes our ability to control it. Addictions come in many varieties and in the degree of dysfunction they produce in us. While we may be able to achieve some control over the addiction by daily struggle, this is not living in the freedom promised believers by Jesus Christ.
To be freed from addiction we need the deeper healing of the Holy Spirit which sanctifies our natures and changes them in a process that brings us freedom from those aspects of our being that are contrary to the nature of our Lord and Savior.
For some of us freedom from addiction has been an actual matter of life and death. I think it takes a serious transaction between us and God the Father to bring us the freedom we desire from whatever is spoiling our life of faith. I know of no formula for this covenant between God and us. It is a matter, I think, of the desperate appeal of our spirit to God for the Holy Spirit to do what we can never do on our own.
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.