Pioneers: The Archegos Principle

 

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There’s a word that crops up four times in the New Testament in relation to Jesus. It’s archegos. According to Philip Hughes, “It signifies one who is both the source or initiator and then leader, one who takes the first action and then brings those on whose behalf he has acted to the intended goal.”

And this is the role of Jesus, of course. I love the old chorus, “Jesus be the centre” for its powerful line: “Be my source, be my guide, Jesus.” He creates, initiates and evokes response, directs, sustains, completes… “Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in my sails, be the reason that I live, Jesus…”

In Acts 3:15, in an astonishing phrase, Peter berates the Jerusalem crowd with this accusation:”You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact.”  The author! The very writer Himself! He wrote the book that you set on the blaze.  That’s the archegos.

In Acts 5:31, the word is generally translated “prince.” “God exalted Him to His right hand as Prince and Savior and Deliverer, in order to grant repentance to Israel, and [to grant] forgiveness of sins.”

He leads the way into life and into salvation.

Third, he leads us into glory. In Hebrews 2:10, we read: “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”

The pioneer, the author, the prince…

And finally, in Hebrews 12:2:

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2) 

Here is the archegos in action, the champion who rouses our faith and who sustains it to maturity. He’s the founder, the initiator, the driving mechanism, the trailblazer.

I remember reading a piece about Brian Clough, one of Britain’s most successful football managers. He was noted for his ability to inspire great performances from modestly talented teams. But in a newspaper interview, he admitted: ” I couldn’t motivate a bee to sting you if it didn’t have the equipment. You can only bring out of people what they are capable of giving.”

But this is precisely what God the Holy Spirit provides for us.

To take our cue from both Brian Clough and Jesus (!) gives a special insight into our understanding of being a pioneer. We are unable to rest easy in being defenders of the status-quo or maintainers of a static institution. The concept of the archegos implies movement, progress, change and forward advance.

In the Old Testament account of Joseph, we have a picture of one who was able to look back on his brothers’ rejection as in the will of God. “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Gen 45:7)  The pioneer goes ahead, at great cost, sometimes, to blaze the trail for others to follow.

God told Moses, in much the same vein: “Go and lead the people on their way so that they may enter and possess the land…” (Deut 10:11)  And, of course, Joshua was called, in Deut 31:3, to “cross over ahead…” of the people.

Pioneer the route. Blaze the trail. Keep it simple. Keep it mobile. Keep it urgent.

The church is not a building but a covered wagon, always on the move, bearing the marks of life and always where the action is. The archegos is the scout, riding out to find the way ahead. His courage and sense of adventure set the tone for those that follow.

In this sense, John the Baptist was the archegos for Jesus. He was a blazing radical, laying the axe to the root of the tree, calling out kings for their unrighteousness, and demanding that the nation repent. He bore the brunt of his calling on his own body, as did so many others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King.

Nearly every breakthrough in medicine and science has been achieved by pioneers who pressed through to new territory. They persisted despite ridicule and being patronised by their established superiors. They made mistakes, took risks but had the passionate determination to break new ground.

So why are there so few spiritual discoveries to match scientific discoveries? The answer lies in lack of researchers. No one can press forward and remain shy and retiring.

How many are willing to give themselves away to take risks like this?

This is why I pray so much for young people. These are they who will carry our future.

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How does God make us holy? (1)

 

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My conviction is this: that the desire to be approved of is implanted in our DNA. It’s the way we are made. In the wrong way, this is nothing more than a cringing neediness. It’s quite repellent when you see it in someone else and equally so when you identify it in yourself. Why should I care who they think? (I ask, whilst knowing that I do).

But this is the “wrong way.”

The “right way” is to recognise this trait in our makeup as a God-given sense of dependence. We are constructed to care what God thinks of us. “Study to show thyself approved....” Paul advised Timothy, and went on, “of God.

Note that. Make an effort to gain God’s approval. Not man’s.

Whilst several Biblical writers acknowledge “the favour of men,” even using it as a descriptor of the early life of Jesus in Luke 2:40,52, it’s seldom a positive thing. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” And, to Peter, Jesus  offered a stern rebuke for choosing wrongly in a choice between “the things of God” and “the things of men.” (Mark 8)

And Peter must have learned that lesson well, for in Acts 4 we find him reminding his captors: “Whether it is is better to obey God or men, you be the judge, but as for me, I cannot help but speak…”

It is not too much to say that we are designed for dependence, that we have a built-in need for God’s approval, and when we turn away from God, that default position finds other, lesser, targets for adoration. We put people on pedestals, whilst simultaneously resenting and undermining their position. We worship and we criticise. We honour and we slander with equal enthusiasm.

We seek the approval of parents, friends, partners, bosses, teachers…. the list extends and practically never stops. Cats, for example, seem happy to receive unlimited adoration.

And how do we do it? Through our efforts. We work at it.

The trouble is, that when we finally wake up and realise that these pursuits are worthless, childish and self-serving, we use the same techniques to gain God’s approval, and it takes a bit of time to realise that that kind of effort is not required at all.

It is, in fact, counter productive.

But didn’t you just say: “Make an effort to gain God’s approval”?

Yes, but not through the gritted teeth of human resolve, but through faith. It is Peter again who reminds us that:

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

It’s worth reading the passage through a few times to receive the full extent of the truth it proclaims. There is so much here, but the phrase that sticks out powerfully -painfully- is that quiet claim to “share His divine nature.

How on earth can we understand that enormous claim?

Is it a claim at all, or the statement of a reality?

Is it an aspiration or a present truth?

The answer has to be that God has made a provision for us to share His character, His total nature. Paul says much the same in Ephesians 4:13:  “This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”

Note that this is an ongoing process – a life of multiplying- and not a static reality. It’s like a balloon that is being expanded and expanded as more breath comes into it – but which never bursts.

And this expansion comes from knowing God.

Peter and Paul offer four statements of how this works out:

    1. Full provision has already been made by God’s power
    2. Provision comes through the progressive acknowledging of Christ
    3. The provision is in the promises of God
    4. Results: we partake of God’s nature and we escape the world’s corruption

To enter into what God has prepared for us, we operate by faith in His promises.

Hebrews 12:10 is a good place to start: “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.” We must appropriate it by accepting God’s discipline on our lives.

And who’s happy about that?

The Lord’s discipline is an often-ignored fact of life for believers. We often complain about our circumstances without realizing that they are the consequences of our own sin and are a part of the Lord’s loving and gracious discipline for that sin. This self-centered ignorance can contribute to the formation of habitual sin in a believer’s life, incurring even greater discipline.

Discipline is not to be confused with cold-hearted punishment. The Lord’s discipline is a response of His love for us and His desire for each of us to be holy. “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12). God will use testing, trials, and various predicaments to bring us back to Himself in repentance. The result of His discipline is a stronger faith and a renewed relationship with God (James 1:2-4), not to mention destroying the hold that particular sin had over us.

The Lord’s discipline works for our own good, that He might be glorified with our lives. He wants us to exhibit lives of holiness, lives that reflect the new nature that God has given us: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

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“Don’t Quit – Do it.” Wesley to Wilberforce

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In his late eighties, propped up on a sickbed in Balham, John Wesley penned a letter which turned out to be the last one he ever wrote. It was to a young politician, in his early thirties, who had set out to oppose the slave trade. His name was William Wilberforce.

Wesley had been a long-time opponent, and almost twenty years before (in 1774), he had written the influential Thoughts Upon Slavery. He referred to it as the “execrable sum of all villainies”.

Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, was active at the time in an unsuccessful attempt to pass abolition. Debate continued for many years and in 1807 the abolition of slavery was effected throughout the British Empire.

The text of the letter is given below and can be used to follow the aged, faltering hand of the still hearty Wesley. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa, who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold for a slave in Barbados. In 1757 -at age 12-  he was sent to England where he had become a Christian.

“24 February, 1791

Balham. England

Dear Sir:

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in all of our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!

That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley”

Wesley died just six days later.

It’s a remarkable letter, both informed and passionate, and says a great deal about Wesley’s own character and his approach to life.

Here’s the bit that really struck me: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might…”

The letter speaks about the relationship between God’s calling and God’s empowering. If you are unsure that God has called you to something, then you may well falter under pressure, but if you have that assurance, then you become unshakeable.

In the words of the old bumper-sticker: “If God brings you to it, God can bring you through it.”  The best way out is always through, after all.

And where His finger points, His hand makes the way.

Paul wrote in similar vein in Colossians 1:

“As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”(Col 1:11-12 MSG)

So how does God work? And how, then, does He call us to work? In a quirky moment, Hal Borland referred to God working with “the patience of trees” and “the persistence of grass.”

I think he meant with quiet, unstoppable creative energy.

God works with a sense of loving purpose and intentionality; with a sense of a calling to duty, a summons-to-arms; He works with persistence, hand in hand with a holy passion; He works, seeing the end from the beginning.

Here’s an example from Exodus 3:

The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters,for I am aware of their sufferings.So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3:7-8)

It’s the heart-cry of the God of the incarnation. It’s how God is. It’s what God does: “I have seen… I have given heed… I am aware… I have come down…”I will not leave things as they are.

What Wesley knew, and what Wilberforce learnt, was that the more you understand how God works, the more you’ll understand about how to do the work set before you.

It’s never a quick sprint, with excited crowds cheering you on, but a long haul.

So “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”

It is God who has called you. It is God who empowers you to answer His call.Don’t be confused by distractions, wearied by opposition or worried by lack of results. He calls you to listen to the heart-cry of the world around you and to respond.

And if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might…”

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The personal work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom 8)

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Do you think that God would ever ask you to do something  that you were unable to accomplish?

The answer is a glorious YES. It must be so, for the sake of His glory. If we only do the things that we can do ourselves, then any praise we may receive is justified. But if we operate according to the power of the Holy Spirit, then God is revealing himself to a watching world. Things happen in us and around us, and we stand back with a certain amount of awe and objectivity, seeing God at work!

But how does he operate? Romans 8 has nine verbs that describe how the Holy Spirit works in our personal lives.

First, the Spirit liberates

The Spirit of life…has made me free.” (Romans 8:2) Jesus said “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) We sometimes forget that this is a relational, as well as intellectual freedom. It begins with an honesty. Jen Hatmaker writes: “The Holy Spirit is an incredible leader and healer. Don’t shove it down; lay your junk on the table and deal with it. Address the stuff. Forgive, release, acknowledge, confront, feel the feelings, let something go, believe the truth, whatever you need to do. Then dust your hands off and get ready to go.” 

And this is also the way we deal with others. We are most in line with the Spirit, most faithfully obedient, when instead of trying to manipulate people into faith, we simply live in that freedom and let the Spirit do the work of transformation.

We don’t do the laundry. God does.

Second, the Spirit of God indwells us.

“The Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9) Peace is not the circumstances that surround, but rather the Person within me who I have submitted my whole life to. If you ever need reassurance on this point, take a look at the Amplified Bible’s valiant attempt to sketch how the Holy Spirit deals with us in its translation of John 14:16: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor,Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby).”

This is the Table of Contents of a book entitled The Work of the Spirit.  He indwells us for these seven purposes.

Third, the Spirit identifies us

“Those who do not have the Spirit of Christ, are none of His” (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the followers of Jesus. It helps people to spot the genuine article. In Mark Batterson’s book, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God , he speaks about this point of identification: “Those who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. That old adage is certainly true of those who walk to the beat of God’s drum. When you take your cues from the Holy Spirit, you’ll do some things that will make people think you’re crazy. So be it. Obey the whisper and see what God does.” 

Fourth, the Spirit raises us.

“The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus” (Romans 8:11). The old KJV word is “quickens.” The Spirit quickens us! He enlivens us. He injects life. That which was dead (or maybe dead boring?) becomes alive, risen, resurrected…

We sometimes miss the centrality of the resurrection. It is the defining point of Christianity. Everything hinges upon this.  And, as N.T.Wright put it: “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”

The Spirit raises us, quickens us, animates us with “the life of heaven.”

Fifth, the Spirit guides us

We are “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14). Your call will become clear as as your mind is transformed by the reading of Scripture and the internal work of God’s Spirit. The Lord never hides His will from us. In time, as you obey the call first to follow, your destiny will unfold before you. The difficulty will lie in keeping other concerns from diverting your attention. Stay focused, stripped down, ready to move. The Spirit will tell you what to do. Corrie Ten Boom said, “When I go to God in prayer, I don’t go with a list of requests, I simply report for instructions.”

Sixth, the Spirit assures us

The verb suggests encouragement, confidence-boosting… in the words of the old hymn, the Spirit comes “to cheer and to guide.”  “The Spirit Himself bears witness” (Romans 8:16). He does it Himself. It is the relationship of those who choose to walk together, and support one another in the journey. Just as Jesus walked with the confused disciples on the way to Emmaus (in Luke 24), so the Spirit draws close and bears witness with our spirits that we are loved, valued and belong to Him.

In his great sermon on “The Religious Affections,” Jonathan Edwards writes:

“The spirit of bondage works by fear for the slave fears the rod: but love cries, Abba, Father; it disposes us to go to God, and behave ourselves towards God as children; and it gives us clear evidence of our union to God as His children, and so casts out fear. So that it appears that the witness of the Spirit the apostle speaks of, is far from being any whisper, or immediate suggestion or revelation; but that gracious holy effect of the Spirit of God in the hearts of the saints, the disposition and temper of children, appearing in sweet childlike love to God, which casts out fear or a spirit of a slave.”

Seventh, the Spirit enables us

The Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses” (Romans 8:26).The Holy Spirit doesn’t need to equip you for what you’re not going to do, so if you’re in rebellion against Jesus and refusing His right to be Lord, He doesn’t need to send the Holy Spirit to equip you for service. And, tragically, you miss out on the joy that He brings.

So let the Holy Spirit deal with anything that’s keeping you from obeying Christ.

Eight, the Spirit intercedes for us

The Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:26)

This is the deepest part of our relationship with the Spirit. Helen Calder explains: “Prophetic intercession is a ministry of faith. We do not always know the reason for the prayer burden that the Holy Spirit gives us; neither do we always learn the outcome of our prayets. But we do know that God is faithful. And-that the greatest reward of prophetic intercession is intimacy with the Holy Spirit.”

Nine, the Spirit reveals God to us

We have “the mind of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:27)

There is so much here. We are weak and faulty and make many mistakes. it is foolish and unreal to think otherwise. And yet… And yet, we read and embrace the promises of God in Scripture. We read Romans 8 and read these nine verbs. The Holy Spirit liberates us into the possibility of going deeper, rising higher, and understanding more.  The mind of the Spirit is the mind of God. “Shall I withhold from Abraham what I’m about to do?” The word in Genesis 14 is a word to us. When we walk in the Spirit, we begin to understand just how God thinks and feels about His world.

It is a conversation into which we are invited.

 

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Called to holiness

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There is a call upon us. It’s something that cannot be avoided or deflected. It’s like a jury summons or being conscripted into military service. You ignore it at your peril.

It’s a call to holiness. God demands holiness in His People. There it is, loud and clear, in Leviticus 20:26, and reinforced in 1 Peter 1:16: “I’m holy. You be holy.”

But what does that mean? It’s an aspect of the nature of God that is quite different from any other. We may have the ghost of an idea of what we mean when we talk about the wisdom of God, or the justice of God, or the power or love of God. That’s straightforward enough: it is the character of God to be loving. It is simply who he is to be fair, or wise or merciful. But holy? What does that look like?

It is reasonable to say that an understanding of holiness can only come as we come to know God, as we gain some “knowledge of the holy.” This last phrase is from Proverbs 30:1-4,  which gives an important introduction to the idea:

Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
    I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know?”

The writer here – we are told- is Agur son of Jakeh. He is giving what is described as “an inspired utterance to Ithiel.”

He begins by acknowledging his own inadequacy. There can be no pretension here, no foolish sense of self-importance. In fact, -and this is the substance of his inspiration – the only way he can attain “knowledge of the Holy One” is through one “who has gone up to heaven and come down,” and who is Creator (dealing with wind and water and establishing the earth). “What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know?”

That is to say, God reveals Himself in Christ, and that’s where we too are holy. Only in Christ. Find Jesus and you find the One who enables the experiential knowledge of being holy.

The whole Bible emphasises God’s holiness.  We meet the thrice holy triune God as “Holy, holy, holy…” in Isaiah 6:1-8 and Revelation 4:8. He  is described as “Glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders ...” in Ex. 15:11.  In  1 Sam. 2:2, Hannah praises God, singing:  “There is none holy as the Lord.” The Psalmist describes God as holy, and enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” (Ps. 22:3)

And this is what God demands of his people. It is the central theme of Leviticus, where the adjective occurs over sixty times: You shall be holy” (Look, for example at Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). A central function of the priesthood was to enable the differentiation between holy and unholy, clean and unclean. (Lev. 10:10)

But it is not only a demand, it is also a promise. Exodus 19:5-6 is a key passage here:

Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” A kingdom of priests! A holy nation! A people quite distinct and unlike any other nation. This is our promised inheritance. This is our summons, our calling. This is our destiny.

Deuteronomy adds to this, that we are to be a “peculiar” people! (Deuteronomy 14:2). That doesn’t mean weird. It means special, separate and orientated differently from any other nation.  Deuteronomy 26:18-19 further describes the holy people as “victorious” and “reigning.”

In the New Testament, these scriptures are applied to the church of God. “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15–16)  We are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9, compare Rev. 1:5–6; 5:10).

We are called to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1); to be cleansed from filthiness of the flesh and the spirit; to “come out and be separate.’

These last points are not negative but entirely positive. Sometimes we phrase them as if the people of God are to be distinguished by what they don’t do, or don’t believe in…. as if we are defined by negation! The truth is almost entirely the opposite. It is not merely duty or obligation – it is joy and privilege too.

We are not describing something to be sought with gritted teeth and fevered brow, but to be greeted with wide smiles and great bounding leaps of pleasure. This is also gift, grace and celebration.

Derek Prince once said -wisely, I think- that holiness in the spiritual realm corresponds to beauty in the natural realm. It is attractive, winsome, charming, and delightful.

And this is how we understand scriptures such as Psalm 93:5. “Holiness befits your house, O Lord.” We are his house, his family, his people, and his holiness is suitable, appropriate… It suits the circumstances of being in his presence. Psalm 96:9 reminds us that worship is beautified by holiness. Psalm 110:3 describes willing offering is like sparkling dew on the leaves. 1 Peter 3:4 calls us to put on the “ornament” pf a meek and quiet spirit. Not external show-off stuff – it is the holiness of heart that God seeks.

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Scougal: Life of God in the Soul of Man 1677 (Interpreting Romans 8)

In 1677, Henry Scougal’s famous book,  The Life of God in the Soul of Man, there is  a classic interpretation of Romans 8. Broadly speaking, it is that true religion is essentially an inward, free, self-moving principle of divine life, not merely a system of thought or behaviour constrained by external considerations. It is the life of God within the human soul enlivening and motivating; it is not “driven merely by threatenings, nor bribed by promises, nor constrained by laws.”

In other words, what makes us Christian is not primarily what we do, but what God does to us. That is essential Christianity. This rebirth, this being born again is all God’s action; that is not man’s, it is God’s. It is being born from above. It is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, the essential thing about being a Christian is that one has thus been dealt with by God, and that is an experience. It is not only experience, of course; there is the element of understanding, and so many other things. But the vital thing is just this experience.

It’s an important insight. If you commanded a butterfly to fly, it could obey, for it would be doing what was natural to it. If you commanded a caterpillar, it would be unable to comply. The butterfly had that “vital principle” of new life within it.

The caterpillar might sink into despair at its inability or fall off a leaf in a mimicry of flying, but it could not comply. The comparison points to the necessity and the miracle of the new birth. To be a Christian is to have a new vital principle of life in the soul so that the commands of God are not oppressive, but are the natural beckoning of a summer morning to a child itching to be out and doing. By the grace of God we are ready to run! There’s a wonderful line in Psalm 119 which one version translates: “I run in the path of your commands…”

But this is not merely a matter of what God does in the miracle of new birth. It is also the “reasonable” response of people confronted with Christ and the truth of his life and work. God works on my will, my mind, my emotions – he renews his own image. He changes the very mental processes with which I approach truth.

So how does new life come into the soul? 

Henry Scougal says that the root of the new, divine life in the soul of man is faith. He says that faith is a “feeling persuasion of spiritual things.” Faith is not just a feeling. And it is not just a persuasion. It is a “feeling persuasion.” And this new feeling persuasion of divine things is the root that taps into the divine life of God in the soul.

And how does that root of faith come to be planted in the soul? The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The “feeling persuasion” of divine things happens when the truth and beauty of those things are exhibited to the mind in the Word of God.

In Romans 8 there are three results of having the life of God in your soul.In Romans 8:9 Paul identifies Christians like this: “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you.” Christians are those in whom the Spirit of God dwells. This is what Scougal means by the life of God in the soul of man. God lives in the soul of man by the indwelling of his Spirit.

First, A New Relationship

The life of God in the soul of man brings about a new relationship to God and his Son.

In the last part of verse 9 Paul says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” In other words the fundamental effect of having the Spirit is that he makes you belong to Christ. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. And the Spirit has sealed this new relationship forever. You are Christ’s because you are indwelt by the Spirit and life of God.

But the indwelling of the life of God brings about a new relationship not only with God the Son, but also with God the Father. Verses 15 and 16:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

The Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption. Or to put it another way, the life of God in the soul of man creates a living union between Father and child. The nature of the Father is imparted to the child, and the old relationship of slave to slaveholder is utterly changed. A new, free, overpowering impulse now governs our lives: not cowering slavery, but glad-hearted sonship.

Scougal describes the transformation: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love. He who loveth mean and sordid things doth thereby become base and vile, but a noble and well-placed affection doth advance and improve the spirit into a conformity with the perfections which it loves.”

Second, A New Leadership

The second thing that the life of God in the soul brings about is a new leadership.

Verse 14: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

When the Spirit of God invades the soul of man, a new leader emerges, namely, God. But the leadership is not the dominating external constraint of a slaveholder. It is the leadership of a new inner principle of life, as Henry Scougal would say. The Spirit loves the things of God and so he leads by imparting that love of divine and holy things to us. And so the commandments of God are not burdensome because we have the nature of God within us.

Here’s Scougal: “The true way to improve and ennoble our souls is, by fixing our love on the divine perfections, that we may have them always before us, and derive an impression of them on ourselves; and, “beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.”

The Spirit leads by implanting a kind of homing instinct for heaven. Or, to change the image, the leadership of the Spirit is so powerful and yet our response is so free that Paul calls it fruit—the fruit of the Spirit—and not works, in Galatians 5:22. The Spirit leads forth the fruit of righteousness by making the tree good.

Third, a new freedom

That brings us already to the third thing that the life of God in the soul brings about, namely, a new freedom.

Verse 2: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Christians are not lawless. There is a law in Christ Jesus. But it is something very different than the mere written code engraved in stone. This law is written on the heart. It doesn’t just tell us not to sin; it comes with its own power to break our bondage to sin. And therefore it frees us from death which is the penalty of sin. And is called in this verse the “law of the Spirit of life,” because it is nothing less than the Spirit of God himself writing the will of God on our heart so that, as verse 4 says, “the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk . . . according to the Spirit.”

This itself is not a legalism, but a love-response. Scougal explains: “Had I my choice of all things that might tend to my present felicity, I would pitch upon this, to have my heart possessed with the greatest kindness and affection towards all men in the world. I”

So the life of God in the soul of man frees us from the dominion of sin not by stamping our toes when we take a wrong step, but by stamping itself, with its own nature, on our heart and making its own will the thing we love to do.

The greatest freedom in the world is becoming the kind of person who loves to do those things against which there is no law. (Gal 5:23)

 

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How to stop the voices that condemn you (Rom 8:1-10)

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“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:1-10)

Guilt-Tripping

J.John used to say that his mother was a tour-guide for guilt trips, and we all know what he meant. You did the BAD THING, and soon your parents will find out. You made a mistake and sooner or later your boss is going to pick up on it. It’s your fault. You can’t evade it. It’s a blow waiting to land. And you stand under it, anticipating, waiting, condemned. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

That’s a sketch of a normal lifetime scenario.

It’s the claim of those who believe in the authority of the Bible that there is more to say. That is, by nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that calls for relationship. We also know that ultimately in so many situations we have failed to live up to that. So there we sit, like that child waiting for its parents to find out, and  hoping the day of punishment never comes. But now we’re talking about much more than being grounded.

Paul has just wrestled with his own proclivity to sin in the famous words of Romans 7, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:16–19). Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful flesh, the sinful nature that dwells in him. He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself. He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be. And this sinful flesh’s work doesn’t absolve him of responsibility; he’s not playing the “The devil made me do it!” card. No, his sinful flesh brings condemnation on himself because it puts him at odds with God’s law.

At odds with the Law

Perhaps when we read through the Ten Commandments we start to feel a little bit better about ourselves. We perhaps start to think, “Well, you know, I haven’t stolen things from other people. I haven’t committed adultery. I certainly haven’t killed anyone!” And then God’s law turns around and brings the full force of its fury to bear. Jesus was clear that it’s not just adultery that condemns; lust does as well. It’s not just murder that condemns; anger and hatred will do that as well. It’s not just theft that condemns; right in the Ten Commandments themselves we find that coveting, longing for something not ours, does that as well.

So God’s law stands as our enemy, condemning us for the things we do, say, and even think. The very attitudes of our heart and the motivations for everything we do are judged and condemned by this law. It makes it so clear how far we have fallen from what God demands. In fact, Paul says in our lesson this morning that the sinful flesh, the sinful nature is so far removed from what God expects that it simply cannot do anything God wants. He says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “There is now no condemnation.” So what happened? The law didn’t lose its tooth; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our connection to Jesus is what ends the law’s ability to condemn us of sin. Paul goes on to explain: God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

What was the Law for, exactly?

The original purpose of God’s law was to show us the way to life. “Do these things perfectly and you will live forever.” Of course, we’ve already seen that we haven’t done that. Sin weakened the law so that it could no longer grant that life, but only bring condemnation and death. So God had to step in and do what the law could no longer do: he had to be the one to bring life to sinful mankind. And he did that by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. God himself took on our human nature, one that looked like every other sinful person but with one important difference: he was perfect. In his perfection he fulfilled the requirements of the law that we had failed to do. He never faltered in anything he said, did, or thought. He was completely perfect. And in the end, he condemned sin in the flesh, that is, he took the punishment for the world’s sin on himself when he died.

Stopping the condemning voices

We are changed. Jesus was perfect on our behalf and took the punishment for our sins on himself. We don’t need to live in the fear of a guilty conscience or impending doom from God’s wrath because we have been set free, changed, from ones who live by the law of sin and death to ones who live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us through God’s Word and his sacraments. His presence reminds us that we are God’s forgiven children. We have no need to fear God because sin has been completely undone in Jesus’ life and his death. The accusing voices have lost their sting. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the promise of God that he has fulfilled for all of us in Jesus:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:8–13).

And so we sing: “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”

God’s love has had a fundamental and complete change for our lives. We had been, as Paul says, those who live according to the flesh and thus set [our] minds on the things of the flesh, but now we arethose who live according to the Spirit who set their minds on the things of the Spirit. As sinful people, who knew nothing of God’s love and only about God’s anger over sin, we only lived in sin and thought about sin and contemplated how to sin more. But now, we live according to what the Spirit would have us do and say and think. We are God’s dearly loved children; why would we want to sin against him?

The changing role of the Law

And so the law doesn’t go away when we become Christians, but its role changes. It changes from exclusively being a mirror, which shows how greatly we have faltered, to also being a guide, a road map, a GPS navigator for our lives. When we think about all that Jesus has done for us, that his work rescued us from hell and has assured us of heaven, we want to thank God for that. And his law show us how to do that. As Christians, the Ten Commandments ought not be primarily a list of rules which condemns us for the things we’ve done or not done. For us, this is a list of ways to show our gratitude to God. God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to commit adultery or lust after someone? God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to murder or let anger or grudges burn and fester in my heart? God has freed me from sin! Why would I want to steal or covet what others have? God has set me free from sin! Why would I want anything else in this life to be more important to me than my Savior, Creator God?

You, my dear brothers and sisters, live according to the Spirit. You know that Jesus condemned sin in himself so that you would not be condemned. You know that you God loves you beyond measure. You know that you will be with him forever. May his law be always your opportunity to show your gratitude and heart-felt thanks to God who has rescued us from sin and death and has brought us new life.

And now we sing: “Sing the truth that sets us free. Stand against the world’s injustice. Christ will have the victory! Jesus came to free the captives by his power the blind will see. Spread the gospel to all nations. Proclaim the year of jubilee!”

We are free; sin has been undone. There is no condemnation! May our lives always be shaped into an appropriate gratitude to God.

And that -THAT – is the final answer to every voice that condemns.

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