What I Believe: Power and Love

People may think of God almost exclusively in terms of his power. On the other hand there are those who see love as the overwhelming attribute of God. What do we see of God when we examine the life of Jesus?

Jesus’ life on earth was marked by significant withholding of his power as the second person of the Trinity. Although he had the power to judge all the earth, he came to bring salvation instead. This means that when he used his power it was to express his love for people.

It is easy to focus on the power Christ displayed when he raised people from the dead and performed other supernatural acts. We tend to forget the beneficiaries of his power and the divine acts of love that changed their lives.

Yet we are in the same category as those told of in the New Testament. In fact, it would not be hard to make the case that most all of Christ’s miracles have happened in us as we have been brought into the realm of the Son of God. The difference in our cases is that it is, for the most part, spiritual defects that have been cured and spiritual hunger that has been satisfied. We have also been given eternal life, sight to see the things of God, access to truth and innumerable other blessings.

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What I Believe: Miracles

Miracles are events that are beyond human power and outside the normal operations of nature. Thus they are described as supernatural. When I think about miracles I realize how many there are, how persistent they are and how unique each is, even though there are categories for those that are similar. For example, the bringing back to life of the son of the widow of Nain is not like the bringing back to life of Lazarus which is not like the Resurrection of Jesus.

Somebody has undoubtedly counted the number of miracles in the Bible and come up with a large number. They are all through the Old and the New Testaments from beginning to end. I believe that there is no reason they should have ceased when the canon was closed. After all, each Christian’s spiritual rebirth is a miraculous and unique event and there have been millions and millions of those.

When we consider miracles, providence, continuing creation and special revelation we can believe in a far richer reality than that of any secular dream. Not to live with awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in our world is not to live a natural life but to exist in an impoverished unnatural condition.

What I Believe: Works of God

Since God’s original work of creation of the physical realm, which brought into being what had not previously existed, he has continued to work out his purposes in what he created. (This is contrary to some people’s idea that God wound up the universe like a clock and left it to run by itself.) This active working can be designated as continuing creation, providence, and miracles. Though this is more for our own thinking than something we are obliged to believe or necessarily as the Trinity thinks of it.

Continuing creation is God using things that do exist to create new things. For example, God uses two cells from our parents to create us who had no previous physical being, although we did receive the ancestry contained in our parent’s genetics.

In providence God uses what exists and shapes matter, energy and events in accordance with the way he has created them to accomplish his purposes.

Miracles involve actions we do not understand. Many people believe miracles are impossible as they seemingly require the violation of natural laws. However, we can think that if God intended miracles he would create a universe that could be used in ways that are beyond the usual. For instance, I do not believe that when Jesus started doing miracles he surprised anybody in heaven (only people on earth). It was just part of God’s original plan.

Some Keys to Christian Maturity

I am sure that somewhere in the television series “Doctor Who” (BBC) the doctor turns to the lovely Clara or another of his female time travelers and says, “Just because something is in plain sight does not mean it is not a secret.” Some keys to the secrets of Christian maturity are plainly outlined in the sixth chapter of Hebrews. This does not mean that many Christians have recognized these for what they are. There is good reason for this.

Verses 4 to 6 can appear to be a warning about Christians losing their salvation and the passage is commonly interpreted that way. However, it also can be understood as a statement that it is impossible for Christians who experience certain spiritual realities ever to fall away from their Christian faith because that would be like they were crucifying Christ again. These five spiritual experiences are the mark of a mature Christian. How do we know this?

The writer of Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 6 that we are going to leave behind “the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” Some of the elementary things to be left behind are: “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Most Christians hardly regard these as elementary teachings so what are the ones that lead to maturity.

The first one is to “have once been enlightened.” This does not mean a onetime experience but that enlightenment comes to mature Christians and remains with them. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, prays that their eyes might be enlightened so they would know the hope to which they were called, the glorious inheritance of the saints and God’s incomparably great power for those who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).

The second part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the heavenly gift.” It is possible to think of this heavenly gift as God’s grace. However, it is more likely to be a taste of eternal life. We cannot fully experience eternal life now but we can taste it sometimes and know it is surely promised to believers as a gift of God (Romans 6:23).

Sharing in the Holy Spirit is the third experience related to Christian maturity. What Jesus told Nicodemus about the mystery of the action of the Holy Spirit in regard to rebirth (John 3:8) is illustrated by two events described in Acts, as well as in other instances that are described in the New Testament. The first instance was when Phillip went to Samaria. There he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Those who believed were baptized with water but the Holy Spirit had not come upon them. This happened when Peter and John arrived and laid their hands on them (Acts 8:12-17). The second example was when Peter preached in the house of Cornelius. The Holy Spirit came upon those who believed and then they were baptized with water (Acts 10:44-47). It would appear that there is no fixed way that the Holy Spirit comes to believers yet it seems that Spirit must come to any who would be spiritually mature.

The fourth part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the goodness of the word of God.” Faith comes through the hearing of the word of God (Romans 10:17) but Christian maturity is found by tasting its goodness. And at the end of the list, we find Christian maturity is also shown by the believer tasting the “powers of the coming age.”

I think the writer of Hebrews meant by the coming age the era of the kingdom of God that arrived with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Peter quoted the last days prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:17-21) to the crowd who had gathered as the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. From this passage we can see that the powers of the coming age that will be tasted by mature Christians include prophecy, visions and dreams. However, this is not the end of the promised abilities. We read throughout the New Testament of disciples having the ability to perform signs and miracles. Presumably people of Christian maturity will also have the power do signs and miracles when and if it suits God’s purposes.

In all these descriptions of Christian maturity there are none that are obtained through physical acts or by sacraments. They are all pictured metaphorically which means they must all be received spiritually. In other words they all come about through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 5:16-26 a number of things about living in the Spirit. Toward the end of the passage (Galatians 5:25) he writes “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” It seems that the keys to Christian maturity involve learning to walk in several ways in the awareness and power of the Holy Spirit.