The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:14-17 NIV).
“Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5 NIV).
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith: test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13: 5 NIV).
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9 NIV).
Evidence of Life (3)
“Before I listen to your demands, I want evidence of life,” I said.
They had my little girl and the FBI were calling the shots. I was just scared to death. It seemed a bit aggressive on my part to demand anything from these people and the silence on the other end of the phone was deafening.
“Daddy?” A thin, fearful voice threw the question at me with the force of a hurricane.
She was alive. My knees quivered and I had to grab the desk for support.
“Yes, mi amor. I’m here.” I said shakily. “I’m coming….”
A rough voice intervened. “That’s enough. I just texted you our demands. You have four hours to comply or you can say goodbye permanently.” The phone went dead.
But my little girl was alive and that’s all that mattered. I had evidence of life and it made all the difference in the world. The rest wasn’t important.
Yes, it’s a little bit of fiction just to get a point across. Evidence of life is important for Christians, especially if you were once dead and now you are alive in Christ. We need some proof, some evidence that it is really true.
After all, the world (and our churches) are full of people who think that they are Christians when it is evident that they are not. Are they blind? Or perhaps simply ignorant of what it means to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Christ? Maybe. No doubt there are some Satanic strategies involved here. No doubt the worldliness of the western church in general keeps people in the dark. No doubt our own flesh, which rebels against the things of God, keeps us in our sin and misery. No doubt at all.
But we have a responsibility as well. In our preaching. In our spiritual discussions. In our discipleship. Willful blindness is self-defeating and true blindness must be overcome.
On the one hand, Paul tells us that we have “received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (vs. 15b,16).
On the other hand, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 that all of us should “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith: test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”
So, if we are truly Christians, we have the Spirit of God within us. It is a seal, a guarantee of our eternal hope. But, at the same time, we need to examine ourselves to check whether or not “Christ Jesus is in you.” You can’t just assume it. You need “evidence of life.”
Sadly, Paul doesn’t give us a list of things we can use as a standard test for the spiritual life. Nor does he explain in any significant detail what he means when he says that the Spirit “testifies with our spirit” that we are God’s children.
Most people just interpret this to mean that the evidence is purely subjective. It is a “feeling” in my heart (or my gut) that I am a Christian. After all, it is a question of faith not works and I believe in the promise that if I confess that I am a Christian then I am a Christian and I can trust God to fulfill His promise to me and save me from eternal damnation when the time comes.
It is a question of faith in the promises of God, they say. Well, that sounds right. It sounds biblical. It even sounds spiritual. But I am still full of doubts. Forgive me.
The reason for those doubts is that those people, by and large, are worldly “Christians” who are “living in the flesh” quite comfortably and justify it with their general morality. They aren’t bad people but they aren’t on fire for God either. I’m scared that God may keep another promise of His to “spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:16b NIV).
That kind of complacency is everywhere condemned in the Scriptures (in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike). It simply is not what God is looking for. God is creating a certain type of person and that “type” is not lethargic, complacent and lukewarm about the things of God. He (or she) is on fire for God and is focused on the things of God. They are a breed apart, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9) who have a significant part to play in the redemptive emergency that marks this stage of history.
So a “feeling” in my gut (even if you call it “faith”) is not going to cut it. We need “evidence of life.” James points out that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26b NIV). So evidence is essential. That much is clear.
But then people fall into the other trap of thinking that the evidence of our faith is our deeds. Again, that sounds right. It sounds biblical. But, again, it misses the mark.
Lots of people in our church are moral, upstanding church-goers who help the poor, put money in the offering plate and are involved in various social concerns. Isn’t that evidence enough? Sadly, no.
Lots of other people in the world, both secular and religious, do good deeds. Many people are charitable. Many people help the poor, run foundations, join the Peace Corps, spend a gap year in Thailand working with people entangled in sexual slavery or work with Doctors Without Borders in a refugee camp somewhere. They are good people and there are many Christians among them but, the fact remains, that good deeds, in and by themselves, are not sufficient evidence for the presence of the Holy Spirit within.
Still, we can’t dismiss these “inklings” or “breadcrumbs” entirely. Paul tells us that we should have a “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6b NIV). No doubt.
But making sure that our “inner assurance” is truly “faith” and that our “outward expression” is truly love and that our love is rooted in our faith, well, that is the thing that matters “and the only thing that counts” (Galatians 5:6a NIV).
And that will take a bit more examination, I think.
Since we know that the “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV) and that Satan is a deceiver and “the father of lies” (John 8:44 NIV), we need to be careful to do this right. Our eternal salvation depends on it. After all, when we confessed with our mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believed with our heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), the problem was not our mouth but our heart.
How do we know that our confession was sincere and real? How do we know that we have received the Holy Spirit?
Forget about speaking in tongues. Yes, tongues have a place but not as evidence of your salvation. Many eastern religions, as well as cults, practice “tongue speaking” and the idea that it is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence is not theologically sound. That simply isn’t going to be enough.
Neither can you depend on the rest of the spiritual gifts that Paul talks about in the life of a believer since they can be (and often have been) counterfeited successfully (at least to the human eye).
The fruit of the Spirit gets closer to the truth of the matter, but since things like patience, joy, long-suffering and the like have been almost entirely understood in worldly terms rather than in spiritual terms, that is also not a clear source of security or assurance of salvation.
What then? How can we take Paul’s advice seriously and “examine ourselves.” I certainly don’t want to fail the test. And that’s the rub, isn’t it.
The ones who are most eager to examine themselves, the ones most interested in “passing” the test are hardly the ones who should be worried. That concern is, in itself, evidence of the Holy Spirit. Those who are in the flesh are at odds with the things of God. The very ones that need it the most are probably not even reading this blog. Go figure.
But still, if we understand what the evidence of the Holy Spirit is in our lives, we can certainly minister that truth in the lives of others and that is reason enough to examine ourselves.
Let me suggest three evidences of the Holy Spirit in the life of a true believer.
These three evidences are not necessarily all of what is available but it will get us started thinking in the right direction. And it isn’t only about one or two of them, but all of them working together in concert in the life of a believer. Part of it is about spiritual maturity, therefore they become progressively more pronounced. All of them have to do with the cross and therefore they are immediately present and available.
First of all, let’s talk about faith. I’m not going to give you a whole theological treatise on the nature and role of faith in the believer’s life. I just want to give you some indicators and cautions to keep you on the right road.
It seems to me that there are two levels of faith that you need to be aware of – faith in the existence of God and believing faith in the death and resurrection of Christ on your behalf. They are both “faith” but they have a distinctive focus and purpose. The distinction between them is vital to our Christian faith.
On the one hand, Paul tells us that unbelievers know “instinctively” that God exists. Paul says that they “suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them…for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:18b,19,20 NIV). That suppression of the truth is necessary if you want to live a wicked and godless lifestyle. So long as God is withholding his immediate and permanent justice on our actions and misdeeds and lack of love, we have the freedom to suppress the uncomfortable truth that we live in a just universe and that one day we will be held to account for our actions. It all makes sense (at least from the believer’s point of view). So far so good.
But then there is a change.
In the book of Hebrews, the author tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
What just happened? We went from suppressing the truth to seeking God. Something happened. What happened was FAITH. And that faith was a gift from God in the first place but acted on by us in the second place. It is interactive. It is a relationship. Initiated by God and responded to by us. It is a mystery as well as an ever-present reality.
Paul tells us that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9 NIV). It is a gift. You didn’t have to grit your teeth and make a decision to believe. You didn’t have to exercise will power or mind control or succumb to outside influences to believe. You just did – believe, that is. It was just there.
Like love, I suppose. When I met my wife, before she was my wife, she struck me as an intelligent and beautiful woman whom I wanted to know. I began “seeking” a relationship with her and, low and behold, one day I realized that I was in love. It was there. I did not create it. I didn’t invent it. I just discovered it’s presence and had to respond to it with a commitment to the relationship that already existed.
That may not be a perfect analogy but it is probably the best one we’ve got. It will do nicely. Faith is discovered not invented. It is a gift, not a work. And that makes all the difference in the world. After all, it is a relationship not a job and, like all relationships, it is about the person, not just the benefits.
The thing to remember, and this is essential, is that believing that God exists is not enough. It is part of the equation, no doubt. It’s hard to have a relationship with a virtual (or pretend) girlfriend. Yes, you need to believe that God exists (as well as your girlfriend or boyfriend) and I suppose that puts you one step closer to the truth but it isn’t enough. “Even the demons believe….” says James, “and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV).
This is the demonic deception that has gripped so much of Western Christianity, that believing in the existence of God, believing that Jesus is the Son of God, believing in the truth that Jesus rose from the dead means that you are a believer. Far from it. There is more to it.
There is a “seeking” after God that is the necessary counterpart to believing in the existence of God or in the truth of Scripture. That proactive desire to seek a relationship with this God that you believe in, sets you apart from the demons. It is an attitude that springs from faith, not just a faith that something is true but a faith in someone who is there and who will “reward those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6b NIV).
There it is in black and white. Faith that something is true is not true faith. Faith in the God who is there is a relational faith that will be rewarded. The first is demonic and the second angelic. The first is a plague in our society (and churches), the second is the secret to a true confession of faith.
That is the first and foremost evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. The gift of “seeking” faith which is the stirring up of the Spirit out of the spiritual darkness of wickedness and godlessness. Truth is relational not merely informational. The informational, historical truth acts as a necessary context for any relationship but it is not the relationship itself. It doesn’t work with your girlfriend (or wife/husband) and it won’t work with God. After all, He is the one who judges men’s hearts and He is the one you have to convince that you are sincere in your faith when you make your confession.
True “seeking” faith is the first evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and entire books are written on the subject, but let’s go on to the second evidence – the conviction of sin.
Now don’t go asking me whether faith is first or the conviction of sin is first. I believe that they necessarily go hand in hand. As you discover the initial stirrings of the Spirit in your heart and you believe in the existence of God and start to earnestly seek Him, you have a hope for a reward, or benefit.
If I am only in the relationship with my wife for the benefits of intimacy, respect and care and my focus is on myself, I have not yet discovered true love. True love is about the other. It is about what the other desires, needs, or expects from the relationship. The beauty of love is that it is a mutually sustaining enterprise. I love her and am concerned about her needs and she loves me and is concerned about my needs. It seldom works that effectively but that is the idea. Sometimes we almost get there for a while or, at least, in part but we know that that is what we must strive for.
With God it is the same but much more difficult. Although the husband-wife relationship is used by God in the Bible as the closest analogy to our relationship with Him, it is more complex yet since God is also our Creator and Lord and our relationship necessarily has a strong and essential aspect of authority involved in it.
Still, without getting too deep into the details, the truth still stands that there are natural and unnatural (or selfish) benefits one can get from any relationship. Although love in marriage makes some sense to us, with God it is often difficult to get past the benefits stage. To some extent that is to be expected. As C.S. Lewis would say, there are natural benefits that come to you if you are a husband or wife or if you are a child of God. Those are not necessarily things you should focus on all the time but they are a natural consequence of the relationship. God wants to reward those who “seek Him.” Seeking Him must be our focus. The rewards come from the relationship not the other way around.
Point being that if we did not believe that God wants to be gracious to us, that He wants to save us from our sin, that He is turning his face toward us in peace, it would be difficult to bear up under the divine scrutiny. For that is what the conviction of sin is all about. The divine scrutiny. God turning His face toward us and telling us what He sees. The Bible is God’s anthropology.
The girl that you are interested in, turns towards you and gives you the once over. She sizes you up. She makes a judgment about your suitability as a friend, a lover, a partner. It may not be a divine scrutiny but even that is painful to bear. How many of us have avoided that moment with every fiber in our beings. Think of teenagers at a school dance who are faced with walking the floor of shame back to the rest of the boys after a girl has declined his offer to dance. Ouch. That hurts.
The conviction of sin can come softly in small doses or with the wallop of a galloping horse. It depends. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world of guilt in regards to sin” (John 16:8 NIV).
Just imagine. You hear about this God that your friend believes in and you can see the changes in his life. Hope flares in your own heart that maybe there is something real there that can help you with your problems as well. You discover that you believe that God exists and you start to earnestly seek Him. You go to a church service with your friend and, at first, you are taken aback by the sheer strangeness of all the things that are happening around you. The songs are upbeat and interesting. That’s good. The people seem to really get into it and, apparently believe that they are singing to someone located somewhere above the Pastor’s head. As one friend of mine asked me once, “who are the people waving at?”
But then comes the sermon. The suppression of the truth has subsided somewhat and your heart is open to hearing the gospel. Something sparks within your heart a desire to read the Word of God, to understand what this is all about, to learn more about this strange God that seems to be real and can make a difference in people’s lives. There is hope of a reward or benefit but there is also a seeking after the God who rewards.
Then, as you study the scriptures and listen to the preaching of the Word of God, you are struck with the ferocity of the twin truths of the holiness of God and the utter sinfulness of your life.
For the first time in your life, as you read the Word of God, you begin to experience the divine scrutiny and it is terribly painful. Not only do you recognize that God is holy (a religious term that you are just becoming acquainted with) but, on a more practical level, that God is completely and entirely a God of love and that you are not.
Your love for yourself, for others, for God is pale and insipid in comparison with the love of God, who was willing to die for his enemies, for you, in order to save you even though he had to submit himself to abuse and mockery and death at the hands of the very ones He was trying to save.
What wonderous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. And at the same time, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips….and I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV).
I’m probably not explaining it very well but let me try again. Here goes.
When we experience the divine scrutiny, we become aware of how God looks at us, how we measure up to His expectations. We begin to understand the divine anthropology that the Word of God shows us, a mirror in which we can see our true selves.
We realize that we have been suppressing the truth with our wickedness and godless lifestyle, acting as if God doesn’t exist or, at least, won’t do anything about it. That fantasy has been shattered for good.
We now realize that our weak-kneed attempts at love are nothing in comparison with His love for us. Yes, we have some “vestiges” of love that keeps the world functioning (more or less) but nowhere near “enough” love for our fellow man or woman to solve the world’s problems, much less our own.
We realize that His anger and, yes, even wrath, are rooted in that very same love in the face of our constant violence upon each other. The contentment of our “marking on a curve” is being shattered by the absolute standard of God’s love as demonstrated for us on the cross.
And there is no going back. Once we were blind but now we can see. And we don’t always want to see. We don’t always want to know. It is horrible and ugly and our hearts sink within us and we shrink back to hide in the bushes and try to save what little dignity we have left by sewing fig leaves together to cover our shame.
But it is too late for that. God has turned his face toward us. We have received the initial gift of faith, we are now in the throes of the conviction of guilt for our sin and loveless lifestyle. That, right there, is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. But there is still hope and so we return to the evidence of faith as we continue our journey.
The third evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit is “saving” faith or, perhaps more clearly, “believing” faith. This is the same faith that we started with. I don’t want to give it another name. But it does have a different object, a different focus.
The first steps in “seeking” faith are focused on God and prepare us for his divine scrutiny but now, in the searing and transformation of our consciences, we are like a drowning man who needs immediate help. We need to be saved. Now the focus is on the work of Christ on the cross in his death and resurrection as our substitute for sin.
Here “believing” faith is focused on our redemption by the blood of Christ, our justification by faith that takes away our sin and replaces it with the righteousness of Christ, our regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we become a “new creation,” and our sanctification, guaranteed eschatologically and experienced progressively. Yes, I know. Lots of big words with little explanation. We will deal with them all in other posts. For now, you get the general idea.
What sweet relief! What blessed peace is mine! T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved, as the old hymn goes. This is a spiritual experience that is only possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. How distant this is to merely saying “Jesus is Lord” at the front of the church and getting a certificate of membership.
Do you earnestly seek God? Lots of people believe that God exists. You will have to do better than that.
Have you experienced the divine scrutiny of God….and trembled? Most people harden their heart towards any attack on their precious self-esteem. My preeeccciooousss….
Have you knelt at the foot of the cross in gratefulness for that love that was willing to die on your behalf and accepted it with all your heart. Most find it difficult to humble themselves and let God be God and we, his children, who obey His will. That is the trade-off. We have been bought with a price. We now belong, body and soul, to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Just like we belong to our wives and husbands and children. It is a relationship after all.
Those are the first three evidences and they are the most important. Catholic theology talks of the religious virtues of faith, hope and love and tells us that they are given to us at the moment we are regenerated – the moment we are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our eternal hope of resurrection.
Here in the first three evidences we have seen the interplay of faith, hope and love, mostly God’s love but also the beginnings of a love for God (or at least a longing for God) in our own hearts. But don’t be fooled. This doesn’t come from you, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit which has been working in you and, when you accept Jesus as your substitute, comes to live within you permanently.
It may happen a bit differently than I describe here. That’s all right. God, in His infinite wisdom, has a million ways to make it happen but the basics are always the same. There is a seeking after God. There is a humbling under the divine scrutiny of God and there is a solution in Christ that can only be accepted by faith.
Remember that it is a relationship and just like any relationship, it is free but it will cost you everything…..and you are happy to pay it. Having a child is free, but it will cost you everything. Getting married is free, but it will cost you everything. But love knows no pain, no cost, no inconvenience. It is freely paid and freely given.
The same is true for our relationship with God. That is the next step in the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Discipleship. Loving obedience. Following God even to the gates of Hell.
Time (and space) does not permit us to talk about the evidence of true, heartfelt following after God, seeking to please Him, hungering and thirsting to do His will, seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven, rightly recognizing the body and blood of Christ, walking the way of the cross in confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, radical discipleship, heartfelt engagement in fellowship, worship and prayer and taking on the mind, attitude and priorities of Christ as we suffer together with him for the gospel…..all of these are evidences of the Holy Spirit that the world cannot even process and we rejoice in.
Once you see it, you realize that the evidence of the Holy Spirit is all around you, and in you. It is not that God has left us without a witness but rather that our ears and eyes need to be opened to see Him in all of creation and recognize His presence in the life of a true believer.
The point is that if you are still blind to the evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life, ask God to open your eyes and unstop your ears so that you can “hear” the testimony of the Spirit in your heart, in the testimony of others and in the Word of God. Only then will you begin to see the evidence bloom all around you and in you and in your fellow travelers on the road to the celestial city.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, we want to see you. Open our eyes that we might see and open our ears that we might hear what the Spirit testifies to our spirit. Turn your divine scrutiny upon us as we seek your face and teach us to cling to the cross as our only comfort in a world in rebellion against you. Give us eyes to see the evidence of your Spirit working in us and give us the courage to respond in faith, knowing that we are so loved by you that you were willing to die on the cross for us while we were yet sinners. All I can say is thank you. In your name I pray. Amen.