In the Spirit

An amazing and miraculous quality of Christian life is the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Everyone who becomes a Christian receives the Holy Spirit. That means God indwells us.

“This is how we know that we live in him, and he lives in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” 1John 4:13

“You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Romans 8:9

Wonderful as it is to have the Holy Spirit in us, it is also easy to put aside all consciousness of God in us and God’s Holy Spirit as part of our lives.

One way to do that is to be focused on this natural life and the things that our human nature gets preoccupied with, such as our selfishness and pride, our love for material things, or for looking good in the eyes of others.

The apostle Paul calls that kind of living as ‘carnal’ or fleshly, focused on earthly things.

“Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on fleshly things; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Being carnally minded is death; but being spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8:5,6

The very Spirit of Almighty God can be dwelling in you without you giving it a moment’s thought. The very Spirit that came upon the great men of old and which empowered the prophets and miracle workers is in your life; the life of every Christian. Yet you can squelch and put out the fire of the Spirit in your life.

Paul warns us to not put out the Spirit’s fire.

“Do not quench the Spirit.” 1Thessalonians 5:19

So, what would it be like to be letting the Spirit of God have full influence in our life?

To understand that, consider the remarks of Paul when he compared living by his own resources with acting by the Spirit’s influence.

“How will it be? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding: I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” 1Corinthians 14:15

Note that Paul recognises that to fully yield to the Holy Spirit means we allow the Holy Spirit to do things in and through us that are outside our understanding. They are not controlled by our mind or our training or our pre-planning or program.

To be ‘in the Spirit’ is to be in a place where we are not taking control, but allowing God’s Holy Spirit to bring to us experiences outside of ourselves.

One obvious example in the Bible is the ability to speak and pray in a language people have not learned and do not even know. The believers did not know what they were saying, but knew they were speaking from the Holy Spirit’s stirring inside them, to give wonderful praise and effectual prayer.

“For if I pray in an unknown language (tongue), my spirit prays, but my mind is not able to participate.” 1Corinthians 14:14

The Apostle John used the term “in the Spirit” when referring to being given amazing revelations that became the Book of Revelation.

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and behind me I heard a great voice, that sounded like a trumpet” Revelation 1:10

So let’s take the idea of being ‘in the Spirit’ and the example of speaking in tongues (unlearned languages) and see how the Bible explains how Christians can live.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you will not bring to birth the lust of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

“Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:5

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” Galatians 5:22

“God gave them witness with signs and wonders and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” Hebrews 2:4

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” 1Corinthians 12:11

“But you, beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit” Jude 1:20

In each of these situations God’s Holy Spirit is the source of the activity and its outcome (fruit). So, as we saw already with speaking in tongues or singing in the spirit, these things are actually outside our mental control. They are not produced by going to Bible Studies or learning certain routines. They come as we yield ourselves to the moving of the Holy Spirit, and allow our mind and will to not put out the fire lit by the Spirit.

To give another view of the same thing let me mention the Holy Spirit being referred to as wind.

“The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it has come from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

Now consider John the Baptist, a prophet of God, moved by God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to John as a ‘reed blown in the wind’.

“Jesus said to the multitudes concerning John, What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” Matthew 11:7

John the Baptist’s message was that all people are just like the grass.

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What will I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field” Isaiah 40:6

John, as one moved by the Holy Spirit, was grass blown by the wind of the Spirit.

In the same way we will be ‘in the Spirit’, walk in the Spirit, live in the Spirit, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and exercise the gifts of the Spirit, praying in the Spirit and singing in the Spirit, not by doing things our mind understands or controls, but by giving in to the impulses the Holy Spirit breathes into us and through us.

I encourage you to recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life and to pursue what it means to live life In The Spirit.

Appearance or Reality

An issue that can plague the spiritual life of some people is their distraction with ‘appearances’, trying to look the part in order to gain the favour of people, but not having the reality which they pretend to have.

This is an age-old problem that Christ encountered in His day and which has plagued humanity in many aspects of our social life. We even have a word for it, ‘hypocrite’.

I have rarely if ever heard the word ‘hypocrite’ used in a technical sense. It’s often thrown around as a cliched insult, but the word tends to have little currency otherwise. Maybe we have made it into an insult word, rather then a descriptor. Or maybe when people use it as an accurate descriptor it’s taken as an insult.

In western society there is great pressure on us ‘keeping up appearances’ and such things as ‘image’ and ‘looking the part’, particularly giving off the image of success and desirability, are strong currents. This can easily spill over into our spiritual life.

Sadly, in an image conscious world, the focus can move from ‘being’, actually achieving and holding right to all the things we give the impression of, to just giving off the right impression, for momentary gain.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and pot, but inside they are full of extortion and excess. You blind Pharisee. First clean what is in the cup and dish, so their outside will be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like tombs painted white, which truly look beautiful, but inside are full of dead men’s bones, and corruption. In the same way you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:25-28

The Pharisees and scribes were very focused on their appearance, but despite the great impression they gave to all who observed them God was not impressed at all and Jesus called them hypocrites. The appearance did absolutely nothing to impress God or to change the reality of their lives.

The same is true today. No matter what wonderful impression you can give off or which people have taken up about you, what is on the inside of you, the true truth about you, is what stands. No amount of looking good can change the tiniest reality about who and what you are on the inside.

Reality is real. Image and impression are fake.

Note too that those who are close to you may well see the truth you might ignore. Many a Christian family has raised children who are jaded about their parents’ faith, because too often they have seen the parents keeping up a good impression and maintaining a good reputation among the church friends, but behaving unworthy of that image in private.

The technical word for such behaviour is ‘hypocrisy’.

As a child my wife was deeply offended by her father who would scold the children for talking with their mouths full, but would rebuke them with his own mouth full of food. This struck her as hypocrisy and she lost respect for her father and his expectations.

Yet her father didn’t catch himself being a hypocrite. He wasn’t conscious of the incongruity or mismatch between what he demanded and what he did. Parents probably do such things many times over.

I understand that we want to be liked and respected, and our pride wants people to think highly of us, even higher than we deserve.

There is a key to having the best appearance and getting the best respect from others. That key is not found in keeping up appearances, but in ‘being’ what we want to appear to be.

Someone once asked, “How can I appear more caring.” They had been accused of not being very caring and that accusation stung them. They didn’t want to appear to be uncaring so they were seriously looking for help.

The answer is, to appear more caring BE more caring. Deal with what is inside you that makes you uncaring, or appear uncaring. Maybe it’s selfishness, or conceit, or self-serving interests. Whatever those toxic things are get rid of them and practice genuine care for people. The best wonderful appearance for anyone to give off is the reality of wonderful things inside them.

Sadly, in a culture that is focused on ‘image’, people are distracted from developing reality, into developing improved image.

It’s possible to wear the right clothes, display the right attitude, have the right shoes, drive the right car, work in the right industry, live in the right suburb, go to the right church, have the right circle of friends – and be a total fraud, empty on the inside, far removed from all the impressions given off and lost.

What a pathetic place to be.

A wonderful thing about reality is the freedom to just be ourselves, and forget about our appearance. Once we ditch the slavery to image we can just relax and enjoy being who we are. And, as we develop godly character and become the person Christ wants us to be, we have no fear by letting people see us in our weakness or downtime. There is nothing for them to see that they won’t respect.

I may be pretty hopeless in many areas, but if people see that I am sincere, and I am honest with them, and I can be trusted, and I am ready to make amends when my weaknesses get in the way, and I say “I’m sorry” and I mean it, and I respond and live in the fear of God where God’s standards dictate how I live, then people around me can be comfortable, even if my personality or style embarrass me from time to time. I’m not a phoney and when I connect with people I am real. Some people who are totally sold out to image might choose to avoid me, but I’m not sure I’m at too much loss when that happens.

People who are real or looking to be real can make a real connection with me, for who I really am.

One last thing. You will notice that the Pharisees and scribes kept up their appearances because they wanted the praise of men (Matthew 23:14). Beware getting the short straw.

The praise of man is empty. The acclaim and ‘well done’ from God is worth incredibly more than the empty acclaim from man.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets so they are seen by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:5

Here’s a question. If you are keen to look good, just remember that each of those you wish to impress will be swept up to stand before God’s throne and account for their lives. What will be the value of all the ways you impressed them on that day?

Let me tell you it will count for nothing. If it counts for nothing then, what makes you think it actually counts for anything today?

Impressing God by having a heart after God is far more valuable than all the effort and money you put into impressing others.

Be real. It’s the best deal all round.

Your Light Shining

Whether you know it or whether you like it or not you are on display all the time. Your light is shining, whether it’s a good light or a bad one.

For example, the actions of parents are observed by their children and parents’ standards become normal for the children. 

In some homes it’s normal to give God thanks before each meal and to sit together, eat politely and talk happily. In other homes there is no idea of giving God thanks or of waiting for anyone, or of eating together or at the table.

Parents shine the idea of what is ‘normal’ into the life experience of their children. When those children go to a home with a different standard they are initially surprised.

People see you and take notice of you all the time. That’s why so much emphasis is given to appearance and giving a good ‘first impression’. People not only see you but they pass judgement on you, or at least set their expectations of you, based on what they see.

If they see you angry, or disrespectful, untidy, unkempt or isolated they will come to a fixed impression of you that will be hard to undo. If they see you polite, thoughtful, attentive, well groomed, respectful and the like that will also make a lasting impression.

We are to let our godly light shine, showing our good works so people glorify God for what they see.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

It is said that what parents do in moderation their children tend to do in excess. So the things we ‘normalise’ with our actions can be quite damaging to those around us.

What is shining from your life? Do you blaspheme, or lie, or sneer? Do you get distracted by an attractive person who walks past? Are your values making a godly statement or a worldly statement?

I spoke to a men’s group recently and pointed out that they are ‘broadcasting’ all the time, like it or not, and are functioning as role models, even when they don’t want to.

As Christians, those around us take their sense of what is Christian by observing us.

In churches I have heard children object to some restriction from their parents, saying, “The pastor’s children do it, so why can’t we?” In that case the standard applied by the pastor became a benchmark for others to use to set their own standards.

So let me remind you that your light is shining, giving a godly signal or a corrupt signal to all around you.

And don’t think that by ignoring people they will ignore you. You can protest that you are your own person and it’s none of anyone’s business what you do or how you do it, but that is a ‘broadcast’ in and of itself. Your selfishness, arrogance or disregard for others is on open display and people not only see it they make a value judgement about it, whether you approve or not.

It’s not up to us to determine whether people will be allowed to see us. Their seeing of us is a given. What we do control is what we broadcast. Do we broadcast the light of God shining out of our lives? Do we do things that a godly person would do, or do we do what selfish worldly people would do?

People are supposed to see our ‘good works’ and we are not to be weary in doing the right thing, ‘well-doing’.

“Be not be weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap the benefit if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9

Have you audited your broadcasts lately? Maybe you should stop and check up on what programs you are showing to the world through your words, actions, choices, standards and attitudes.

Maybe you could ask those close to you to point out any areas where what you broadcast could give a less than godly message.

Maybe, if you are a parent, you need to audit the signals you send to your children, because all the bad and thoughtless things you do become ‘normal’ to them.
Do you want them to be like you in your speech, actions, morals, attitudes, choices, etc?

If not then it’s time to check the light you shine and be sure to shine the light that displays Christ in you and the work of God through you. May people be impressed with God when they see the Light you are Shining.

Can You See It?

One of our problems in life is that we often need to understand things and effectively ‘see’ how things will work out. We use the language of sight when we say, “I can’t see how that would work”, or when we explain something and then ask the question, “See?”

Our Christian life is not a life based on ‘seeing’ things, but on taking them by faith. 

“The just live by faith” Romans 1:17

“We walk by faith and not by sight” 2Corinthians 5:7

By faith we ‘see’ things. We take hold of things that are not yet tangible, being convinced we will see the tangible outcome in time.

Faith then becomes a different kind of ‘seeing’, seeing by faith. That is when we look at a situation and ‘see’ it solved, before ever there is any change.

God asked Joshua to do this before attacking the city of Jericho. This was the first city to be taken in the Promised Land. The Israelites already had great victories over kings on the east of the Jordan River, and now they were crossing the river to take the holy land God promised to Abraham.

“The Lord said to Joshua, See, I have given into your hand Jericho, and its king, and the mighty warriors.” Joshua 6:2

At the time God said that to Joshua all that could be ‘seen’ in natural terms was the huge walls of Jericho. So God wasn’t asking Joshua to look with natural eyes, but with eyes of faith. God was virtually saying, “Get a picture in your head of you capturing Jericho and its king and all the mighty soldiers.”

This idea of seeing things by faith is recorded in the great Faith Chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11.

The chapter lists Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob as having faith, believing God for things that did not exist at the time they were promised. In fact the land promised to Abraham, then to Isaac and Jacob did not become their land for close to 500 years.

So note the comment in verse 13.

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

That phrase ‘having seen them afar off’ refers to seeing that at some time in the future the promises would become reality.

That’s how faith responds to God’s promises, ‘seeing’ that they will be fulfilled and so virtually having a picture of the reality that has not yet arrived.

Joshua accepted that he and his army would conquer the whole Promised Land, and they would start by capturing Jericho. He ‘saw’ what that victory would look like and was persuaded that he would triumph.

Once you can ‘see’ that it will happen then your plans, your words, your attitudes and everything else reflect that assurance.

Joseph was confident the children of Israel would only be in Egypt for a limited time and so he gave orders about his bones being taken to the Promised Land when they left. And that’s what happened. He could ‘see’ it before it happened.

As you ‘walk by faith’ you will end up with a bunch of things you can ‘see’ that haven’t happened you. These are the things you are believing for, which you have prayed to God about or which God has promised in His Word and you have claimed as reality for you and your family.

On the other hand there may be things you are hoping for, wanting to believe God will do them, but not really mustering the faith for it yet. That’s OK. Remember the man who asked Jesus to help his unbelief.

“Jesus said to him, If you can believe all things are possible to him that believes. And immediately the child’s father cried out and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:23,24

Look into God’s Word and see what God has promised you, such as peace, healing, forgiveness, victory, protection, and so on. Settle in your heart that God’s Word is true and that you will believe it. Then form a mental picture of what it looks like for God to have given you what He promised, what you’ve asked for.

Then thank God for His gift of the blessing and fulfilment of His promise.

If you are struggling to believe then ask God to help you believe. Remember too that faith grows when we hear the Word of God, so listen to people of faith sharing God’s Word to build up your own faith, such as by teaching and testimony.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

And as you reach out to God for the fulfilment of His Word in your life, stop and ask yourself the question from time to time, Can You See It?

Salt and Light

Jesus declared God’s people to be the Salt of the earth and the Light of the word.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

For most Christians these verses have become like poetry or a sentimental nicety, disregarding the practical reality Christ revealed.

So let’s take a moment to consider what we are being told by the Lord of all creation.

Firstly note two different and yet similar statements, about us being like salt and like light. Both salt and light have influence, so it seems like two ways of saying the same thing. It’s as if God is saying “pay attention to the influence you have on the world around you”.

Digging a litter deeper, however, we note that the salt is related to the earth and light is related to the world. They are similar things, but each has their own meaning and significance.

In the original text the ancient language word for ‘earth’ refers to the soil and symbolises such things as a country, the ground, the land and the world. It has a terrestrial significance.

In the Bible we see that lands come under curses, based on such things as innocent blood shed on the land. God talked of restraining the rain when His people would not honour Him.

God promised that the land would be healed if God’s people responded properly.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” 2Chronicles 7:14

So being the ‘salt of the earth’ suggests our righteousness bringing impact on the land or nation in which we live. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin brings negative things.

“Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14:34

In a nation full of righteous people the nation can expect to prosper and be the head and not the tail, even if its leaders and many in the land or not righteous. Note that the presence of some righteous people can spare even an evil land, such as God’s willingness to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were just ten righteous people.

You are the salt of the earth in your land. Your land prospers or goes backwards, based on your standing before God.

If you lose your saltiness you become worthless and you get trampled on by others. Have you noticed that in some nations where Christianity was once revered there is now a readiness for the community to stomp on Christians. Maybe it’s because of a loss of saltiness and now the Christians are being trampled on by others.

When Jesus referred to us being ‘light’ he did not talk about the earth or the land, but the culture or society. The original language word is ‘kosmos’.

“You are the light of the world (the cosmos)”.

The suggestion this time is not that we impact the prosperity or wellbeing of the land, but that we shine light on our culture. 

One key reason for that is that light exposes and dispels darkness.

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and won’t come to the light because their evil deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20

“Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather reprove and expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that exposes things is a light.” Ephesians 5:13

So we see that we are to impact our culture, standing up for godly values in a world which wants to engage in dark and selfish things. That doesn’t mean we will be loved for that, but more likely despised, since those who love darkness will be disturbed by us. But they won’t have power over us, since light dispels darkness.

By shining our light we create an environment where dark things cannot operate and have to go somewhere else to find a friendly home.

Note, though, that Jesus prompts us to let our light shine. Many Christians hold to godly things, in a hidden way. Maybe they are afraid that by shining their light they will get into trouble. Jesus, on the other hand, prompts us to let our light shine so that men will see the good we are doing and glorify God.

So, with those few reflections in mind, let me remind you once more of the words of Christ.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

I call on you to live out your calling as Salt and your calling as Light in your life, your home, your workplace, your community and your nation. The earth and the world will be blessed by you if you will just be what God has made you: Salt and Light!