As I continue to read the little book on the Holy Spirit by Lois Malcolm, I am challenged to think about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the church, and in my personal faith, love and hope.
In a chapter entitled, “The Spirit Creates Faith” Lois explains the freedom the Spirit gives us to live the life of Christ. I want to share with you a couple quotes and allow you to simmer on them a bit.
“We do not lose our unique individual identities when we enter into Christ’s life; we do not become Christ. Rather, we become more fully ourselves. Christ’s life-giving Spirit gives us the power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives—patterns that keep us trapped in destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—so that we can be all that God has created us to be, so that we can, by faith, step into the possibilities God would have for us. Where destructive patterns in our lives have abounded, now grace can abound all the more!” (56)
Here’s why I like this--I get the feeling that a current trend in Christianity is that we know a lot about different personalities and then seem to prefer particular ones over others. We have expectations of how men and how women should be (and act)…and in the call to be more like Jesus, we need to be careful not to place our personality preferences on others. We are to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, but we are also to truly be more ourselves and to learn to appreciate who we are in Christ. While the destructive patterns need to cease, introverts filled with the Spirit and extroverts filled with the Spirit may both seek Jesus and do so in ways that are unique! I could go on…but my point is that in being a Christian…you don’t have to fit a “mold,” you are free to live in the Spirit’s guidance of your individual identity! That is a great thought, especially as I (or you) live out my (or your) faith prompted by the Spirit’s work!
A second thought from the book is this:
“Thus, with faith comes profound self-love. Through the Spirit’s power, we are able to love ourselves—and accept even those parts of us we are most ashamed or guilty about—precisely because God knows and loves every part of us. Indeed, it is only when we re no longer so buttressed by the incessant demands of our own fears and desires—when we can actually become an integrated rather than a divided self—that we can truly attend to what others need, that we can truly attend to their interests and not merely to our own.” (59)
Here’s why I like this--I think many people learn to hate a part of themselves, and I think some Christian circles teach this self-hate as way of dealing with sin and making sure that a believer will not return to that sin; thus returning to shame and guilt and all things evil. Yet, how wonderful is the love of God that declares “I love all of You” including the deepest and darkest places of our hearts, minds, and souls. And this love, instead of making us fearful and embarrassed, provides us with freedom from the very sin curse we participate in…and in so doing we are accepted into the family of God. I also like to think that as we are made whole by the Spirit, we join with other people who are made whole by the Spirit and then we have a group of people joining together to make the world whole by the Spirit…and that group is called the church. And it is the church in which we can attend to the needs and interests of others. The opposite of this approach is the all too familiar consumer approach to church…I will sell the good parts about myself and I will only be a part of the church if it serves my needs. This type of faith doesn’t end with “profound self love” and “attending to the needs of others.” Only the Spirit does that!
I have been reading a little book by Lois Malcolm on the Holy Spirit. I met Lois at the Rochester College Streaming Conference, and her book, Holy Spirit: Creative Power in our Lives would serve small groups well if you have a group that is interested in thinking about the Holy Spirit and its representation in the Bible. In chapter 3, she starts off by stating, “Something happened after Jesus’ death. His disciples experienced his presence among them as one raised from the dead. They announced that God had vindicated him by raising him from the dead, making him both ‘Lord and Messiah’ (Acts 2:36). And, they experienced the presence of the Spirit within and among them. They affirmed that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwelled within them and gave life to their mortal bodies(Romans 8:11). As they reflected on their memories about Jesus in light of the Scriptures and what they remembered about his life, they interpreted Jesus’ death to be something he offered through ‘the eternal spirit’—the indestructible life of God—so that they could, with clean consciences, worship the living God (Hebrews 9:14).” (35)
She continues, “Throughout Acts, we read how members of the new community were ‘filled with the Spirit’ to move and act in certain ways. The Spirit directed the affairs of the community (Acts 5:3; 9:31), guiding through prophetic utterance (Acts 11:28; 13:2; 20:23; 21:4,11) and through mutual discernment (Acts 15:28). And the Spirit gave individuals power to perform certain tasks for the community…” (38)
As I think about Dr. Malcolm’s writing that connects the church with the Spirit as an extension of Jesus, I find myself deeply drawn to this ecclesiology (that is a way of “doing church”). Here are a few of my observations to think about:
Malcolm asserts, “As Jesus’ living presence with us, the Advocate will give us a deeper and an even more expansive—a more vital and more life giving—understanding of the truth. Jesus told his disciples, the Advocate will not only ‘teach you everything’ (Acts 14:26), but also ‘guide you into all the truth;…and…declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16:13). Nonetheless, what the Advocate will disclose would always be rooted in Jesus, reminding the disciples of all Jesus has said to them. The Advocate would always only ‘testify’ on Jesus’ behalf (John 15:26). Just as Jesus did not speak on his own but only the Father’s words, so the Advocate would not ‘speak on his own,’ but only ‘speak whatever he hears’ (John 16:13)—from Jesus and the Father.” (45)
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon exploring the different generations and what they add to the church. One sweet person asked me to share this information with them in a different form that could be accessed, so I’m going to do it here. I hope this is helpful and while there is good research behind these statements, they are not meant to be comprehensive, but more summery statements that spur further conversation.
A cultural generation, defined, is "a cohort of people whose youth was shaped by a particular set of events and trends. Because of these shared experiences, cultural generations develop similar values and approaches toward life.”
GI or Greatest Generation was born between 1901-1926 and were children during the WWI generation, fighters in WWII, and young in the Great Depression…GIs are important to the church because they have a strong work ethic and the wisdom of many life experiences. They know what community is and how to build a strong one.
The Mature or Silent Generation was born between 1927-1945 and were children through years of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock 'n Roll! Cars! Silents are important to the church because they tend to be team players who are loyal to organizations. They have a huge knowledge legacy and a strong work ethic.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964 and are usually split up into two sets: The save-the-world revolutionaries of the '60s and '70s; and the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ‘70s/'80s. Baby Boomers are important to the church because they tend to be optimistic and driven by success. Boomers excel in tackling issues and finding solutions.
Generation X, commonly called the Latch Key Kids, was born between 1965-1980 and grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents. Often they would go home from school to an empty house. Gen X is important to the church because they thrive in situations that minimize rules and maximize flexibility and participation. They value feedback and are looking for meaning in their service/work.
Generation Y or Millennials were born between 1981-2000 and they prefer digital literacy, and have never known a world without computers! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. Millennials are important the the church because they are self-confident and achievement-oriented. Technology has surrounded them from birth, and they are more techno-savvy than any previous generation.
Generation Z or the “Boomlets” were born between 2001-Present and the number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation. They don't understand the world without technology. Boomlets are important to the church because they supply us with hope, future-orientation, and such joy as we watch them grow.
A Church that upholds the notion of the family of God should desire to incorporate each generation, in their life stage, into participation in the life of faith. The church must affirm that, “We will all listen to each other with deep love, humility, and the desire to grow in our relationship with God, our understanding of Scripture, and our experience of oneness in Christ.
Incarnation and Imitation
The incarnation revealed what is possible when a human moves in God’s will, and by God’s power. In Jesus, God acted, but also demonstrated what human action in the name of God looks like. For I have set you an example, Jesus says, that you also should do as I have done to you. Yes, this line’s context (John 13:15) is somewhat particular to his servant gesture of foot-washing, but the following discourse makes clear that this practice is barely the tip of the iceberg. Everything Jesus does and says is a demonstration of God’s work and will in the world, and the disciples are being invited to share in that way of being in the world. The point of the incarnation is to say, This is what happens when divine action/being meets human ac-tion/being.
Moments later, Jesus expresses to his disciples that they have perceived God’s will as re-vealed through Jesus’s words and actions, and have even had their status before God changed because of it: The servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (John 15:15). Jesus is revealing God’s will and work, and then inviting them to join into that same will and work, becoming fruitful by honoring his command tolove one another as I have loved you. God is at work among humanity in the human form of Jesus, so that humanity might be able to learn how to work on behalf of God in the world.
What’s Faith Got to Do with It?
This is all well and good as a bunch of theological talk, but is still missing a critical piece: faith. This all occurs in its context in a crisis moment, and the disciples will forget their loyalty to Jesus before we can scarcely turn the page on the conversation. However, before their abandon-ment, we get a preview of what will come to pass after the resurrection. It is yet to be tested by the crucible, but we get a taste of the faith that will be solidified when the disciples witness his defeat of death. In John 16:30 we read the climatic confession, "we believe that you came from God." That curiously-worded affirmation of faith is more central to John’s gospel than is easily recognized.
"We believe that you came from God" sounds like a basic thing to affirm about Jesus, but for John’s gospel it is the critical point. Everything up until chapter 12 has been constructed to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact the one sent from God. It’s a theme hiding in plain sight, cap-tured in language like being from God or from heaven, or in Jesus’s talk about being sent. The fascinating turn of the fourth gospel is that it takes this basic affirmation of Jesus’s origin and uses it to launch the mission of the disciples. Just as the father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his disciples (20:21), and when they are doing the will of God, they have access to the same divine power that Jesus put on display. What’s the connection between what Jesus did and what the sent disciples will do? Their faith.
In coming to believe that Jesus is from God, the disciples also come to believe his invitation to share in his divinely originating power and mission. They too become from God because now they are from Jesus. John tipped his hand early on that this was God’s work in Jesus: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13) In the wake of the resurrection, the disciples can truly become brothers of Jesus, shar-ing the same Father and God (20:17).
The Victory of Faith
There’s an old church song, Faith is the Victory which draws its language from 1 John 5:4-5, ...this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The song implies that the victory is one that we, Christ’s disciples win over our enemies. However, the greater truth is that it is Jesus who becomes victorious over his enemies because of our faith. See, we may not have noticed the connection between this text (1 John 5) and John 16:33, where Jesus says to his disciples: Take courage; I have conquered the world!. Notice how the announcement is peculiarly located—Jesus proclaims his victory before the events of either the cross or the empty tomb. What has happened at this point that evokes this claim? It is the confession of faith from the disciples—this constitutes Jesus’s victory over the world!
Now that they believe—or perhaps better, now that they are coming to believe—Jesus has won a foothold in the world. God’s work will continue. The gospel embodied in him will be em-bodied in his disciples who now participate in his mission. Jesus, the Sent One, will become the sender, and the faith of his disciples will become a gateway for the power of God to work good-ness in the world.
Our faith is much more powerful than we know. It is not just a vehicle for our comfort or empowerment. It is a vehicle for divine action. It is the connection point at which God’s people become partners by God’s Spirit, agents of God’s creative agenda in the world. Faith is the en-gine translating God’s will into human action and the restoration of God’s creation.
It is easy to underestimate our faith. I often perceive mine to be quite a weak thing—apparently much smaller than even a mustard seed. But in the hands of Jesus, even our broken faith creates enormous possibilities, and becomes a tool in God’s mission.
(If you would like to walk through a study of the Sent theme in John, consider the follow-ing texts in their context: 1:12-13, 3:2, 3:13, 3:17, 3:31-34, 4:34, 5:23-24, 5:36-38, 6:33, 6:46, 6:57, 7:27-29, 8:14-16, 8:23-26, 8:42, 9:4, 9:29-33, 10:36, 11:27, 12:44-45, 13:3, 14:24, 15:21, 16:27-30, 17:8, 18:36-37, 19:9, 20:21. This list is not exhaustive, and perhaps the better approach is to simply take a highlighter to a fresh copy of the gospel and mark each time the theme shows up. I assure you, you will not have to travel long between occurrences! I would love to say that the theme is plainly stated in literally every chapter of John, but alas, chapter 2 only yields 2:9, which I hold to be playful language on the theme—but I’ll let you decide for yourself.)
Steven Hovater: Four kids. One wife. Seventeen hobbies. A coach’s whistle. Lots of thoughts about God and food. The spiritual gift of volume. Blogs at stevenhovater.com, and preaches in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
by Scott Elliot
Words do not stay the same. The definition or influence of a word can change over time. Sometimes they are overused and lose their power. Words that were once quite meaningful can become meaningless. Christianity is a religion that relies on certain words. The Bible is a story, and you cannot tell a story without words. Some of these words are essential to Christianity, and yet Christianity is a religion that has been around for many, many years. Christians have clung to important words while also dealing with an ever-changing world where the meaning of words can change.
Faith is one of the most significant words belonging to Christianity, but what does it mean? Over the years, many have equated it with belief. For these individuals, faith is the same as mental assent, but I believe a careful reading of the Bible will prove this definition tobe inadequate. Certainly, belief is an element of faith, but it goes deeper than what a person may hold to be true. Several times in the Gospel of Mark, faith is contrasted with fear (Mark 5:36). One of the most famous stories where this occurs is when Jesus calms a storm (Mark 4:35-41). You can imagine how frightening it would be to be on a small boat in the middle of a lake during a storm. Your boat could be capsized by the wind and waves. You would be susceptible to lightning strikes. You would essentially be helpless until you could reach shore. This is the situation that the disciples found themselves in. They were scared, and through it all Jesus slept. Finally, they decide to wake him. He calms the storm, and then says, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40).
If faith were merely belief, then fear would have no power over it. It's possible to believe and at the same time be afraid. Faith is more closely related to trust. When we trust, fear goes away. This is what Jesus was looking for in the boat. The disciples were believers, but they did not have trusting faith. If they would have had faith in Jesus, then they would not have been afraid.
The contrast between faith and fear that Mark provides is helpful in evaluating our level of faith. It might be difficult for some to gauge their commitment to God adequately. We are great at critiquing others and not so great at self-criticism. However, if we think of fear as the opposite of faith, then it is much easier to identify areas where we are afraid. Wherever we find fear, we will likely also find a lack of faith. If we fear the political future of America, then we need to trust that God is sovereign over all. If we fear our neighbors who do not look like us, then we need to seek to love them all the more while trusting that God has created all people in his image. If we fear what will happen to the economy or where our next check will come from, then we need to trust that God will provide.
Radical faith is when we put our trust in God even when the future seems uncertain. We see this in story after story in the Bible beginning with Abraham. What we discover from Scripture is that God is always faithful. It would be difficult to trust in a chair that looks weak and fragile, and that has never been set in by you or someone you know. There would be no reason to trust the chair. However, if you saw a big sturdy chair that always provided a safe and secure seat for anyone who rested in it, then you would have no problem trusting the chair. God gives us every reason to trust him. We can always depend on God.
Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.