lying feelings lead, truth feelings follow

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Galatians 5:16

This is a difficult one, tricky. It seems like we humans are most often led by our feelings, and only live beyond them when we have to. Like left to ourselves, we might take a long, extended (and maybe even needed) vacation. But that’s not on our calendar, so off to work we go.

Feelings are an important part of who we are as humans. They’re not merely to be thrown on a scrapheap as simply not counting. Feelings can indicate problems we have, or what really are dangers. Fear can be good as well as bad, we call it a healthy fear.

But all too often we humans are led by our feelings. “If it feels good, do it,” is a sad slogan that is all too often our practice. We don’t feel like doing the hard necessary thing, what needs to be done, so we either put it off, or cancel it all together. Or we feel like doing something we know is not actually good for us, like eating one cookie after another until they are all gone. Or something worse.

Scripture indicates to us that God’s word to us is to lead us, with God’s promises following. So that means we have to place our faith in God’s word and act accordingly regardless of how we feel about it. We are led by God’s word, often in spite of our feelings. And so led by God.

But we’ll inevitably find at least in time that feelings confirming God’s word follow. What I mean here is that the confirmation will be that we have understood God’s word to us, and that God is blessing us in that understanding.

In the Galatians passage quoted above, we’re told not to walk by the flesh, but by the Spirit. The flesh here stands for what’s in opposition to God, and oftentimes is feeling oriented. We do in our sinful state what comes natural. And even as those who have been made new in Christ, we still have old habits that are not necessarily easy to break.

God calls us in Christ to walk by the Spirit. This will often, in fact I think most often, at least in my experience, will mean that we aren’t led by feelings. We instead are led by God’s word and by God’s Spirit. As we earnestly endeavor to be open to, and do that, then God will open that up for us. It may take some time, but if we persist, that experience will come. And the feelings will follow. And the fruit of the Spirit especially having to do with our relationships with each other, will follow.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:22-26

In and through Jesus.

 

the work of the Spirit: forbearance

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…

Galatians 5:22

In seeking to be led by the Spirit, rather than fall into the default of the flesh, Paul’s words are set in the context of Christian community. The words certainly apply beyond that, even how we seek to engage our enemies. But are directly applicable in relation to each other in Christ, responding to what’s difficult for us by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Traditionally the word in the NIV translated “forbearance” has been and continues to be translated “patience,” “longsuffering” in the KJV. One of my professors said it’s basically the idea of putting up with each other. Bill Mounce in his “gloss” of this word tells us:

patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action

Collins Dictionary describes how we use this word:

If you say that someone has shown forbearance, you admire them for behaving in a calm and sensible way about something that they have a right to be very upset or angry about.

We don’t want to be thinking negatively about others, finding fault and picking at it. We have our own faults and weaknesses for sure. But we often do rub each other the wrong way; it works both ways for sure. Sometimes through misunderstanding, but other times whether or not we should be, we’re frankly annoyed.

When we find ourselves there, we need to determine that we want to be led by the Spirit so that we can walk by the Spirit, rather than act or react in the flesh. That should be our goal. God will honor that commitment of faith by helping us. But there may be a point where other feelings and thoughts submerge us. We then need to prayerfully seek the Spirit’s leading and help, not responding by the flesh. Part of that is moving in directions we know are good and avoiding what we know is not.

When we do stumble along the way, we can confess the sin to God, and if need be to someone we might have offended, and go on. We also have to be careful not to consider something thought, said or done as necessarily sinful. God knows, and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Satan is always present to condemn us. It’s these low points that can strengthen us in our commitment to walk by the Spirit, rather than give in to the flesh.

This leads to the important point that we just can’t go on our feelings or give in to disparaging thoughts. We certainly can’t control our feelings, but we can choose to seek in all things to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.

So back to our main point: The fruit of the Spirit is forebearance. The Holy Spirit of God will help us in our thoughts toward people and things that we find disagreeable or even offensive. God understands our struggle with it; Jesus himself experienced that. The Spirit will help us in love to put up with each other well, as we receive their forebearing love in return. In and through Jesus.

being led by the Spirit/the peace of Christ is individual, but essentially communal

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law….

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:18,22-26

Being led by the Spirit and the peace of Christ is both individual, but it’s especially communal. At least that’s the case in the two passages quoted above. I think we often think of them in individual terms and maybe due to our culture. Here in the United States we are steeped in individualism in terms of individual liberty/freedom. From our heritage in the founding of the nation based in the Modernist Enlightenment in which this emphasis was one of its tenets. While there may be some good in that, overall it obscures what is at the heart of humanity: relationships. To be human is to reflect the image of the Triune God who lives in Relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we were made to be and practice the same both in our relationship to God and to each other.

So we have to think and live in terms of what is best not just for us, but for others, in fact the emphasis being on the others in our following of Christ, even as we’re reminded elsewhere (Philippians 2:1-11). It’s not like we all simply try to make each other happy, though joy and peace should characterize our lives together in the righteousness the Holy Spirit gives (Romans 14:17-18 in context). Sometimes in our gifting, what we are led to do, always gently, might be a challenge to others. But in the love of Christ that is present, we should receive such in God’s peace: the ideal. And remember too that this is a major way God will lead us and give us his peace: through each other. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

the temptation to give up

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6

It is perhaps my biggest temptation nowadays just to cave in to despair, and give up, and retreat into an existence I’m not familiar with, and therefore have a hard time describing. Not that we can well describe where we’re at, anyhow. I leave that to God, really. Faith oftentimes is more like an aspiration, than a sense of having arrived, even though in the midst of it all, we can have that “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

In the passage quoted above, it is about those who are of the Spirit being ready to gently restore anyone who has fallen into sin. About carry each other’s burdens. About helping support those who teach the word.  About doing good to everyone, especially to the family of believers. So kind of related, relational matters, but general enough that the encouraging exhortation to not become weary in well doing can apply in any endeavor for us in Christ in this life.

For me this is almost like a life rope. There are breakthroughs which are possible, but seem as far removed from reality as night from day. I sometimes have wondered why, in my words, God makes it so hard for us in this life. Why we have to pray and pray and pray for God to move and answer. There remains some mystery in this for me, but I think the simple matter of fact is that it’s all because we’re so stubborn and settled in our own ways. And God never coerces anyone against their will to trust and obey, to commit their lives to him. And God desires relationship with us, and wants us to walk in the victory that is ours in Christ, in both how we live and what we do.

We will reap a harvest of the Spirit, if we don’t give up. I must remind myself of this, and keep after it day after day, along with others, in and through Jesus.

Romans 7, and the case for two natures

Yesterday I suggested that the sinful nature teaching among evangelicals is questionable. Today I want to touch lightly on a most challenging passage, which has different interpretations, though by and large, I think one should prevail, with some possible overlap into the Christian life.

Romans 7 is often understood as teaching that the believer in Christ has two natures. And I’ve heard the teaching repeatedly, we probably all have, that it depends on which nature one feeds as to which one survives, or thrives and grows. At the same time it’s taught that the believer will have an inevitable struggle with the two natures, even a tug of war (it has even been inaptly called I think, a civil war), and the struggle won’t end in this life; it will always be present.

Romans 7 needs to be read and studied in the context of at least Romans chapters 6 and 8. What is noticeable in Romans 7 in contrast to the previous and following material is that both grace and the Spirit are absent. Romans 7 depicts life under the law, we might capitalize Law, life under the Torah. At least at this point when the transition has taken place and the first/old covenant is of the past, the final/new covenant present, grace and the Spirit are no longer present with what is now the old covenant, as important as that covenant being first, was. Paul would have surely argued that only in the new/final covenant was God’s grace and the Spirit to be dominant, the old/first covenant having laid the groundwork for that.

One might argue that Paul’s use of the first person “I” indicates he’s talking about his own experience as a Christian. I think along with some interpreters (at least one of the early church era) that he is using a rhetorical device which was especially common, or at least known when he wrote it, and is simply identifying what life is like under the law in the graphic terms of one living there. However insofar as we who are in Christ, no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit (Romans 8) and under grace, not under the law (Romans 6), insofar as we live like those who are under the law, something of the experience of Romans 7 will be experienced. But in reality we are not under the law, but under grace, and not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, so that the thought is a deception.

People refer to Paul calling himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1), as if he sins right up to the present, contradictory of the teaching of Romans 6 and 8. But Paul is surely thinking of his past life of persecuting Christians, and not to his present life. At the same time, it’s true that we don’t arrive in this life. We still have both indwelling sin, and sin to confess. So there might be some case to make for two natures. As Galatians 5 makes clear, if we don’t walk/live according to the Spirit, we will live according to the flesh.

There is little doubt that at least at times we can and will falter. And we don’t arrive in this life to any kind of sinless perfection, but do sin in thought, word and deed daily in both what we do and fail to do to love God with all of our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that we are always in need of God’s mercy to us as sinners. But at the same time, our lives are to be characterized as those who are led by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body, and living as those enslaved to God and to righteousness in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Jack Levison on the humility and simplicity of a Spirit-filled life

…ambition is the enemy of the spirit and simplicity the spirit’s closest friend. Ask Elihu about this, and you’ll see he’s clueless. Read his speech in one sitting, and you’ll find nothing about humility. But read the stories about Daniel and you’ll find a life rich in simplicity and draped in humility. Daniel did not plan and plot to climb the ladder of success by knotting himself to the coterie of handsome, hunky Israelite men whose futures were bright with promise. The lesson is clear: the spirit-breath of God pulses in people who opt for simplicity and humility rather than ambition and acquisition, people who choose simple veggies over lavish meals and fine wines. Clear, but very hard to put into practice.

It is a radical step to reject notions of net worth, to repudiate power, to resist the allure of prestige, to refuse to want what we do not need—and to focus instead in cultivating the spirit-breath within.

Jack Levison, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life , 61-62.

Elihu’s speech (Job 32-37); the book of Daniel (chapter 1; website won’t include entire book on one page).

my own niche

I love our church, and I actually love past church experiences in different ways. In this post I am reflecting with a goal to thinking in terms of whatever time I have left to serve our Lord in the fellowship of his church in mission to the world. I wish someone early on would have tapped me on the shoulder and mentored me to be a teacher, perhaps in the church or in a professional setting, whether in a Christian institution or not. I have always seen myself as having a pastor’s heart. I will always love the memory of Pastor Bill Hesse, a present day Barnabas. I wish I would have remained with him and under his influence. I think I may have ended up being a pastor. I was not sufficiently rooted once I left the upbringing of my youth, the Mennonite church.

I would love to start a home group, maybe even plant a church along with others. It would be rather Anabaptist and charismatic in theology. One church may not fit all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches could somehow do that? That is just kind of a dream, I suppose.

Something I think is more solid than that: I would like to just keep on reading and reading and reading, hopefully in ways which will help not only myself, but others. And humbly serve the Lord in the fellowship of his church in different ways as opportunities arise. I would like to contribute somehow to the faith of the church along with others. Just as one member within the body of believers, the body of Christ. We all have our special contribution to make.

In the meantime I think I need to continue to read on and on. Something some years back I thought the Lord said to me (something like: “Read.”). From that I will continue to work, hopefully be led by the Spirit and be open to that leading much better. In the fellowship of God’s people, the church, together in Jesus for the world.

learning to live well in grace

An ongoing venture with me in which I hopefully am growing is the rejection of a spirituality based on something less than the grace of God in Jesus. The spirituality I am rejecting over time, and with more than a little help from my friends is one in which I think this or that ought to be done to maintain the highest ethical standards. The problem with that “this and that” can be that people are trampled on in the process, or hurt in a way which does not facilitate the mission we in Jesus are on- of living out and sharing the good news in Jesus.

I am not referring to compromise in sin with others. Of course what is sinful to one may not be sinful at all to another; check the passages in Paul’s writings on the weak and the strong in faith. I am referring to getting used to a different orientation altogether. I think a significant part of the problem is that we can be concerned and even bent out of shape over something which is already taken care of. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” period. Those in Christ Jesus, the passage goes on to say, follow the way of the Spirit and are enabled by the Spirit in and through Jesus and his death to fulfill the requirement of the law which is essentially love, love for God and for our neighbor. But we humans tend to want to operate in ways in which we are in charge and can understand.

Yes, discernment is important and the church together, and particularly the elders ought to be involved in that. But enter now an error, I think in many Anabaptist circles, of having an orientation which has the idea that somehow what we think as to right and wrong reaches the status of God’s will. I’m thinking of an emphasis on externalities with the worthy goal of pursuing and living out holiness. And with the idea that life should revolve around that.

Enter Jesus. He broke the rules set by men over and over again. His was a different orientation altogether, set on loving God and neighbor, on proclaiming and teaching the good news of the kingdom of God having come in him. As well as doing the works of that kingdom in the world. We need to get beyond a focus which is taken up primarily with our own eternal welfare, since that is taken care of in and through Jesus. Or beyond even the false idea that somehow our communion with God is maintained by rules we keep, as if those who do not keep them could not be in the same fellowship or communion with us in Jesus. Instead we need to become intent on an orientation of learning to follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love.

This doesn’t mean we can always flaunt human rules and conventionalities, that we should never have any regard for such. There may be times and places where we need to keep such in order to live in love for God and our neighbor. What this does mean is that we ourselves are not tied down to such in our own lives. We are on mission in Jesus seeking to live fully in him and in obedience to his commands. Living out the new in Jesus in the old of this world. Together in Jesus for the world.

a Spirit-saturated existence

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

It is said that all who are in Jesus are in the Spirit, that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ dwells in them. Then we are told that those of the Spirit must by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body. And that all who are led by the Spirit are God’s children.

I have heard or read sharp Spirit-flesh teachings in my life. Watchman Nee, a great Bible teacher and writer as well as a martyr, comes to mind. It is a stark either/or; either what you do is of the flesh or of the Spirit. I think there is truth in that. Indeed any of us are capable of committing “great transgression” as David did. In the heart, and worse than that (although all sin starts in the heart) in the body. At the same time I think we are also capable by God’s grace to live by the Spirit, or think and do something by the Spirit.

What I want to push back against is the teaching that all that we do is a stark either/or. So that if we are struggling in our lives over anything, then nothing of the Spirit can be in anything in our lives. The passage (see context) quoted above suggests otherwise.

Indeed all who are in Christ, all followers of Jesus live in a Spirit-saturated existence, that is, the Spirit fills all things in our lives. We in turn are given the imperative to be filled with the Spirit. Indeed we can both grieve and quench the Spirit of God in our lives. We are not necessarily filled with the Spirit, but just the same we live in the Spirit, or in the realm of the Spirit. Being filled in our lives might simply mean to yield to the Spirit, to not resist the Spirit, to at least be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives.

What I am saying may or may not necessarily contradict the teachings I’m pushing back against. Maybe I’ve misunderstood them. Nor do I mean to water down the danger of living according to the flesh, rather than the Spirit. All I’m wanting to insist on and point out in this post is that we in Jesus live in the realm of the Spirit, indeed in a Spirit-saturated existence. Jesus’ words here, and the passage quoted afterward seem to suggest as much:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

We in Jesus do indeed live in the Spirit, not in the flesh, if the Spirit of God lives in us. We live a Spirit-saturated existence. May we be enlarged in our hearts and lives to take in more and more of the Spirit who is present and at work in us in Jesus for the world.

acting on impulse

Some people seem to give pride of place to spontaneity. Life is about acting on the moment. Others see self-control as a paramount, if not the paramount virtue. So that they are always taking measured steps, rarely if ever acting on impulse.

At times I think I’ve put myself in not the best place by acting all too soon. Perhaps there wasn’t sufficient prayer, if any prayer at all. I have an answer, a ready one, and one that seems to fit well the occasion and perceived need, and I know that unless I share it then and there, that time will have passed, and besides, I will have forgotten the word, seemingly apt and in season.

On the one hand, we’re to be like little children to inherit the kingdom of God, and though we’re to mature as sons and daughters in Jesus, I don’t believe we’re to ever lose a certain kind of child-likeness that Jesus seems to indicate is part and parcel of the kingdom. Children certainly act on impulse out of love, we might even say out of faith, hope and love with reference to life, and their understanding as well as in the context of their relationships.

On the other hand, self-control likewise is important, and oftentimes underrated and all but forgotten in our society which seems more than less all about acting on impulse with the now old motto still alive and well, “If it feels good, do it.” In fact for us in Jesus it is vital, and a fruit of the Spirit. It is about controlling ourselves so that we don’t act on emotions that are inappropriate such as anger or fear, so that we don’t act on impulses that have their origin in the world, the flesh and the devil.

For myself there is no doubt that acting on impulse in the sense of acting on being led at the moment is important in what I do and in expressing who I am in terms of witness. Jesus told his disciples that when they would be brought to trial because of their faith in him, that they should not plan ahead of time what they will say, that the Spirit would give them the words to say when that time would come. And what we do in the moment is really an expression of what has been gathered days and years before that, for good or for ill.

But it is also important for me to take special note of all such impulses and seek to understand their core. Does this act I’m about to do in word or deed reflect God’s good will in Jesus, or is it my own will in a context that is all about me? Sometimes we can see clearly the answer to this, but other times it is quite subtle. It may seem like I’m about the Father’s business, when in reality I’m bent on seeing my own will done. However we should not get too hung up on what might not be clear. Most of the time it will be clear enough for us, one way or the other. And if it’s not, then we do best to stop and pray.

And then when I do something which I thought at the time was good, I am a good one for second guessing myself. My wife Deb keeps reminding me not to do that. I did what I thought was best at the time, and I should allow for the possibility, or even probability that God led me, or is at least working good in it for good.

Acting on impulse. Something we can do in the faith, hope and love that are grounded in God’s revelation to us in Jesus, as God’s kingdom people, together with each other and for the world.