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)
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.
As promised, I want to take a look at Philippians 2, a passage of Scripture that recounts Jesus’ journey to the right hand of God. Here is the text:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Emptying of the Son and the Power of the Father
In Philippians 2:6-11 we find what some scholars suggest is the oldest surviving piece of writing on Jesus. We have what appears to be either a song or an informal creedal statement that we assume the church at Philippi either knew, had memorized, or even used in worship. Paul reminds them of a picture of Jesus that they need to carry with them during their time of struggle. Paul shows us that Jesus is the ultimate example of true service to God.
Equality with God:
But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Grasped in this sense is not “comprehend” with the mind, but indicates an actual physical grasping. The Greek word means more like “exploited, grabbed, taken for one’s own advantage.” The NIV editorial board updated the translation here to read “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Therefore, Jesus was not willing to use his divine nature for his own benefit. He refused to exploit his divine authority.
Jesus chose to make himself nothing. He “emptied” himself. This one word has been the subject of so much debate among theologians, “kenosis” in the Greek. It comes from the Greek word for to pour. He pours himself out. He gives himself and his authority away as he becomes born in the form of a human.
Becoming a Servant:
He takes on the form of a servant. There are two words for servant- “diakonos" (where the church gets the transliterated word “deacon”) which is an administrator, server, waiter, attendant. But then there’s “doulos;” a bondservant, slave, one without any authority. Jesus becomes a “doulos” not a “diakonos.”
I want you to notice something extremely important…this is the end of Jesus’ action in the text. In other words, Jesus’ part is over at the emptying, humbling, and serving. Paul is going to use the all important transitional word, “therefore” and so there is a continuation of the story as a result of what just happened…And you might notice that at this transition, it is “God” or the Father that takes over the action in the text.
Again, we might ask the question where Jesus receives his power, and we might also discover that in this text Jesus, the Son, makes himself into a vulnerable servant of God to which God responds by exalting him. It should not strike us as odd since Jesus himself made statements about God opposing the proud and given grace to the humble. Yet, in this text we see the power of the Son being the ability to empty himself, and the power of God being to exalt and bestow honor. While this text does indicate an equality of nature in the Father and Son, that is the same form…a reader of this text must see a striking contrast between the function of Father and Son. The Son reigns by the Father’s power, and the Father is pleased by the Son’s unwavering character.
By: Ryan Lassiter
As I think about this summer blog tour theme of Faith Unshackled, I have been thinking about what often shackles our faith. And sometimes, I think we have just made it too complicated. It is like we say, "It can’t be that simple!" and then start arguing doctrine, dogma, and Scripture to avoid the obvious.
I have been studying a great deal lately the greatest commandments. There are a few different versions of this in the gospels, but my favorite has become the one recorded in Mark 12. One of the scribes sees that Jesus is a legit teacher, so he asks him the big question. "Which commandment is the first of all?" In other words, what matters the most to God? Most of us know the story. Jesus says something like, "Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself." But in Mark’s recording, the scribe gives Jesus a robust "Amen!" "You are right he says!" Then he goes onto repeat back essentially what Jesus has already said and the scribe tacks on, "this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." But here is the part I love. After the scribe says this, Jesus says, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
Wait? Loving God and loving neighbor puts us in a place where Jesus basically says, "You’re getting it now. You’re getting closer. You’re discovering the way ofthe kingdom?!" Can that be?!
Overwhelmingly churches (mine included) give a list of core values and beliefs that are something like, "We believe in God, we believe in the Bible, we believe in salvation, we believe in baptism and on and on. But for some reason, I have never seen a church say, "Our core belief is this: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you are near the kingdom of God." That seems a bit too simple doesn’t it? Yet, that is more important than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Or, if I might contextualize and paraphrase it a bit, that is more important than all of our "right beliefs," "sound doctrine," etc.
Then we have Matthew 25. I have heard multiple sermons and lessons on this text and how it teaches the reality of final judgment, which by the way I affirm. However, do we ever ponder the question, "What does Jesus say puts one on the wrong side?" If we do, the answer isn’t burnt offerings, sacrifices, correct doctrine, worship service attendance, reading the Bible, understanding baptism, etc. (though those are all REALLY important to talk about and do). Rather, the answer is those that gave food and drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, visited the sick, and welcomed the strangers. I think it would be fair to put that under the heading of"loving God and loving neighbor."
So when I think about unshackled faith that lives for Jesus with reckless abandon, I think it is best we get back to the basics. The church has been like the football team that has come up with really great offensive and defensive schemes, but forgot to teach the basics of blocking and tackling.
My prayer is that we could continue the important discussions about doctrine, Scripture, and beliefs, but that we would not neglect the seemingly simple and most important. My prayer is that we would get back to the basics. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. And by the way, I don’t think you can do one without the other. Maybe the best way to love God is to get back to the basics and go love a neighbor. Maybe then the kingdom of God will come near.
Ryan Lassiter is the husband of Sarah, and father of 3 (almost 4!) beautiful children. He is also the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville, AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX, and he and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.
We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.