Holy Spirit, Part 3: Imagery Associated with the Holy Spirit
Wind. Breath. Spirit.
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Throughout Scripture, we see that the Spirit of God has been actively involved in every part of creation and redemption. He has been described using a variety of images in order to help us gain an understanding of His work. For example, the word ‘ruach’ meaning either ‘wind’, ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’ is often used to capture a primary function of the Holy Spirit: action. This is what we see in Genesis 1:2 within the creative activity of the Person of the Holy Spirit, spoken of in language that speaks of His power, presence and influence. Like the wind, the creative power of the Holy Spirit is beyond all human ability or comprehension.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.”
Gianna Jessen was born on April 6th, 1977, in the Los Angeles County Abortion Clinic. Her 17-year-old biological mother had been counselled to have a late saline abortion, a process which involves the injection of fluid into the baby in order to kill it. Yet Gianna Jessen, aborted at 7.5 months, survived. She should have been born blind, burnt (by the saline) and dead. The abortionist who had sanctioned her death was not there to finish the job when she was birthed alive, and subsequently signed her birth certificate. Gianna’s medical records say, “born during saline abortion.” By the leading of the Holy Spirit, Gianna now travels the world sharing the good news of Jesus as she stands against abortion.
All life belongs to God and we are the stewards of our lives rather than the owners. In recognising this, we need to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit in order to understand what God would have us do with our lives. Gianna could have ended up a bitter victim with great hatred towards her biological mother. Instead, she knows her worth in Christ and reaches out to challenge others in the love and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Like a Doveco
The Spirit descended ‘like a dove’ at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:10; Matt. 3:16-17). Have you ever considered why a dove was chosen and not a seemingly mightier bird, such as an eagle? Or perhaps you have questioned why imagery of a bird was used at all?
In Scripture, a dove was a bringer of peace to Noah (Gen 8:8-10) and was also a bird used for sacrifice by the time of Abraham (Gen 15:9). In the Messiah, we have one who did not come to condemn but to save (John 3:17) and bring us peace (John 14:27, Heb 10:5-11).
Karen Green was an abused girl who quickly spiralled down a slippery slope into prostitution. Many years later whilst in prison, she began to attend a church, simply because it gave her something to do. When speaking about that time, she recalled the preacher speaking about the Holy Spirit continually working in order to peel off the layers of darkness that often ensnare a person. Although she was not a Christian, she stated that she began to feel as if light was beginning to filter into her soul.
One day, after recognising her need of a Saviour, she asked Jesus to change her – and He did. Now out of prison, Green dedicates her life to helping others. She works with those who, like her, have called the streets ‘home,’ and helps them to find their true home in Jesus. Of her life she says, “I am second – He is always first.”
At the beginning of Acts we see the arrival of the Holy Spirit being accompanied by what looked like ‘tongues of fire’ (Acts 2:3) on the day of Pentecost. Elsewhere, in 1 Thes 5:19, Paul tells his readers not to put out the Spirit’s fire or treat prophecy with contempt.
In Genesis 15:17 we read of the presence of God appearing as a blazing torch and in Isaiah 6:6-7, yet again, fire is used to speak of God’s holiness and His desire to destroy sin, thus cleansing His people. Through this, we are reminded that God did not come because He felt sorry for us; He came to make us holy – to make us His.
Holiness speaks of God’s awesome perfection and of that which is separated unto Him. However, in attempting to separate themselves from all that was wrong, some Christians do little more than become judgemental and consequently refuse to get involved with others. In fact, many who attempt (in their own strength) to be holy often become little more than a moral bigot, always wanting to correct others. They may talk some of the talk, but can they walk the walk?
If I am going to be holy - that is, cleansed and separated - the first thing I must realise is that holiness speaks about belonging to God. For us, holiness has to speak of intimacy with the Father and a reliance upon the Holy Spirit before anything else, as it is out of this relationship (made possible by Jesus) that everything else flows, whether it be dealing with sin or raising the dead.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
I once met a scholar and pastor who was in his late eighties. Whilst driving a few hundred miles to his flat for the first time, I had wondered what I would say to an old pastor and scholar who had been teaching decades before I had been born. I soon came up with the answer: say nothing - just listen.
I had found a man who still gave out to others in amazing ways, despite his age. Shortly before I had met him, he had sold his house and moved into a small flat in order to finance his work for Christ. He was, right up until Jesus came to take him home, a man fired up by the Holy Spirit.
“So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. For our God is indeed a devouring fire.” Hebrew 2:28-20
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23
‘Firstfruits’ speak of the beginning – the first instalment of the harvest (Lev 23:10). When Paul speaks of us as having the ‘firstfruits of the Spirit’ he is pointing out that we have, in the Holy Spirit, the beginning of the future world.
We have been redeemed (Rom 3:24) and adopted (8:15), yet we still await the fullness of His redemptive work - the resurrection of the body (8:11). However, we are not in a waiting room and growth both begins and continues in the here-and-now. No matter where we have come from or what we are facing, He is with us today.
Many years ago, I recall praying for a woman from a very difficult background who seemed to have real trouble moving forward in the Lord. As I was praying one day, I vividly remember being given a picture of myself kneeling down whilst someone very powerful walked past me and touched my shoulder as He did so. In this I found God encouraging me that the true Shepherd of the flock was reaching out to this person, whilst helping me as He did so. The Holy Spirit is here to help us.
A Seal and Deposit
“…You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…”
At the time of Paul’s writing, Ephesus was a bustling seaport and an important trading centre. When orders were placed on goods arriving at the port they were checked (to ensure that the order was complete) and then sealed with a mark, signifying a finished transaction. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal because the transaction between Father and Son concerning our salvation is complete from God’s side.
At Ephesus there was the large temple to the goddess Artemis, which is considered one of the then seven wonders of the world. In such a pagan place, amongst all manner of occult activity, it was important for the early church to know that the One whom they served was not ‘one amongst many’, but the only true God. They also needed to recognise that, through Christ, the Holy Spirit was with them as a ‘seal’ and a down payment - the guarantee that God’s promises are true.
The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a seal because Jesus has satisfied the just demands of God’s holy Law. The transaction is complete. We are sealed in Him. We do not have His seal of ownership on us because we are perfect, but because our standing is now in the perfect work of God’s one and only Son.
Everything concerning our standing in the Lord comes about through Christ, who is the guarantee of the better covenant (Hebrews 7:22) and stands in our place as the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45). This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 that there is now “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Note that the word ‘condemnation’ that Paul uses speaks of a legal transaction – a once-and-for-all transaction.
As already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is also spoken of as a down-payment (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor 5:5). In Paul’s day, a deposit that was paid was a strong, legally binding agreement. For us, the strength of this agreement resides in it being an agreement between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit concerning our salvation. In the Spirit we have a foretaste of what is to come as we are immersed in the finished work of Jesus and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I have a few black T-Shirts and shirts that, over time, have begun to fade in colour despite the cloth itself remaining intact. Because of this I buy black clothes dye, mix it with salt, and wash the dye into the fabric through two cycles in my washing machine. Through placing my faded black clothes in the ‘environment’ of the dye, they come out looking almost brand-new. Through being ‘impacted’ by the dye, the condition of my clothing has changed. The word ‘baptise’ originally spoke of cloth being immersed in dye and speaks of a change of environment.
Baptism is the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment, or into a union with something else. In doing so, the relationship with the previous environment is changed. So, for example, Paul tells us that in being brought out of Egypt to meet with God, the Israelites were “baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2). But what does this mean?
Moses was God’s chosen instrument (His ‘representative’) through which God reached into Egypt in miraculous ways and demonstrated His power as the covenant-keeping God who rescues and establishes His people. Through God’s intervention through Moses (hence baptised into Moses), Israel passed through the sea in the presence and protection of the Spirit. Through this act, the entire Israelite community were brought into a new environment (hence ‘baptised’); they were brought out of Egypt and into a place of reconciliation and freedom from oppression and bondage.
Jesus came veiled from all the glory and power of heaven, in order to enter the priestly role (Mark 3:13-15). He had a baptism to undergo (Luke 12:50), in that He entered into the environment of suffering and pain of this world and underwent judgement in our place. Jesus is the one who left the perfect environment of heaven and came as a servant (Phil 2:5ff). He is the One who baptises us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mark 3:11). We are, by the Holy Spirit, brought into the environment of his victory (Col 2:12).
The Holy Spirit is the one who baptises us – who places us in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are united with Christ and we fellowship in the power of the Holy Spirit (Phil 2:2) as we seek to encourage and uplift others.
“It is the Spirit of God who brings existence out of nothingness, order out of chaos, and beauty out of blank formlessness.”
Dr.Barclay in, The Holy Spirit page, 12
You and I are covenant beings and the heart of the covenant is the presence of God’s Spirit with us. Therefore, in the presence of the Holy Spirit we have the presence of One who is the same in nature and character as the Father and the Son. In the Holy Spirit we have one who continues the work of God in those who are truly yielded to the leading of the Lord.
Stanley Jones had been a missionary in India for many decades. At the age of 87, Jones awoke one morning to find out that not only was he old, but he’d also had a stroke that limited his movements and affected his speech. Understandably, the first thing he did was panic.
In writing a book about this event, Jones explained that he got back to being himself and became aware of the presence of the Lord when he had meditated on one simple fact. So what was it? He realised that he had to slow down and recognise that God could work with him just as powerfully as an 87-year-old cripple as he could do with a man of forty preaching many times a day. In other words, Stanley Jones reminded himself that his lack of ability was not a hindrance to God.
The Spirit of Adoption
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, "Abba, Father."
Paul writes that we did not receive the spirit of slavery. In other words, we are not tied to, crushed, or ruled by that which is transient, dysfunctional or passing no matter how difficult or attractive it may seem. And when we do find ourselves struggling with life and all that it throws at us, there is One who, as Jesus did, enters into our brokenness and despair in order to support and enable us in life.
Theologian and author, Fredrick Buehener, once wrote the book, Telling Secrets. In this book he spoke of the emotional struggles he had experienced as he watched his daughter suffering with anorexia. Before his daughter was hospitalised (an event which saved her life), Fredrick said that if she ate a slice of toast, he was elated, yet found himself sinking to a place of utter hopelessness when his daughter ate nothing the next day. Whilst experiencing these difficulties, he speaks of God’s gentle love and powerful presence in this way:
“The power that created the Universe and spun the dragonfly’s wing and is beyond all other powers holds back in love, from overpowering us. I have never felt God’s presence more strongly than when my wife and I visited that distant hospital where our daughter was. Walking down the corridor to the room that had her name taped to the door, I felt that presence surrounding me like air – God in his very stillness, holding his breath, loving her, loving us all, the only way he can without destroying us. …Little by little the young woman I loved began to get well, emerging out of the shadows finally as strong and sane and wise as anybody I know, and little by little as I watched her healing happen, I began to see how much I was in need of healing and getting well myself. Like Lewis’s dwarves, for a long time I had sat huddled in the dark of a stable of my own making…”
In Romans 8:26-7, Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness as he writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.”
Prayer involves experiencing the presence of God as we recognise our need to be totally dependent on Abba Father and reach out to Him. Therefore, prayer is as much an attitude as it is words, and in looking at the Pauline prayers, we see so many of them speak of getting to know more about our heavenly Father and His love seen in Jesus and lived out by the Holy Spirit.
God sees all that we undergo, and He understands the weakness, confusion and the frustration that so often besets us. By the Holy Spirit He is with us and translates those feelings and desires for what is right into words. We need to know this because so often our words run out and we start to give up, when in reality, He reads our heart in all matters. In the Holy Spirit, we see One who does not just sweep difficulty out of the way but enters into our difficulty and works through our inability, if we let Him. This is what Fredrick Buehener experienced as he watched a daughter whom he could not make better.
When you and I love others, we can often practice this love in the way through which we think they need loving, but we are so often misguided in our thinking and consequently overpower or crush those we mean to help. God does not love this way. His love is a powerful love that is gentle enough to encourage and uplift in the right way and at the right time. This is how it is that Paul can say, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). Paul could write in this way because, in all that he had gone through, he knew the ‘Spirit of adoption’ with him.
In the 19th century war on poverty, many of those who sought help from charities were left totally on their own in a society that did not have a welfare state. The volunteers who helped run these charities were encouraged to become, in essence, new family members to such people and help make a difference over a period of many years.
In the Holy Spirit we do not have a pharmacist who is adept at dispensing pills. Instead we have a friend who helps us understand and grow in all that has been provided for us in our new family – hence He is the Spirit of adoption, and by Him we can grow into maturity no matter what we may be facing.
In Paul’s day, adoption meant losing all rights to the old family and gaining all legitimate rights to a new family - it meant getting a new father and having a status that was exactly the same as any other son or daughter in that family – even if those sons and daughters were part of the natural blood line.
In being adopted, you were now regarded as a totally new person. Your new life and standing meant that all debts from the past were wiped out. No-one could come along to you and say, “you owe me this” as the said debt no longer existed in the eyes of the law; you were to all intense and purpose, a new person.
When the Emperor Claudius adopted Nero so that Nero could one day succeed him on the throne, a problem soon arose. The problem was that Claudius had a daughter called Octavia whom Nero wanted to marry. Although there was no blood connection, in the eyes of the law they were brother and sister. Therefore, before they married the Roman senate had to pass a special legislation enabling Nero to marry a girl who was legally his sister.
In the epic film, Ben Hur, a man who was forced into slavery was eventually adopted as a son after saving his owner from drowning. In his case, the adoption was a means of expressing gratitude for something he had done. In our case adoption is all about the grace, compassion, mercy and the loving-kindness of another.
Over Christmas I watched the film, Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. In the film a boy called Pip was brought up with a Blacksmith and his wife, who due to injury was virtually bedridden. Pip began to learn the trade of a Blacksmith but then found that he had an unknown benefactor who provided him with a certain amount of finance each week, until he would come of age and receive his fortune.
There is a lot to the story, but Pip left the Blacksmith and began to dress the part of a wealthy man, squandering his money as he did so. Yet at the same time, he sought to help someone else out. Pip did not maintain contact with the Blacksmith and eventually the Blacksmith came to see him – a meeting during which Pip felt great embarrassed as a result of being in the Blacksmith’s presence. Even when the Blacksmith’s wife died, all Pip did was pay a cursory visit and that was it.
The months went by and Pip ended up having to sell everything in order to pay bailiffs as well as finish off paying a bill for the man he had been supporting. Everything was sold, yet Pip still owed a small amount of money and expected to end up in a debtor’s prison. However, Pip’s bill was almost miraculously paid – but by who? The Blacksmith.
In the blacksmith we find a small picture of the amazing grace that is ours through Christ. Yet, like Pip, we can sometimes fail to come to the ‘God who is there’, when everything seems to be going OK. We forget that we are not just called to be ok, but to walk in the power and authority of His presence with us, come what may.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th century German philosopher who often wrote against religion and is famous for his ‘God is dead’ statements. It has been said that one reason he was so against the idea of God was because he experienced a church and society that professed belief in God yet did not trust in anything more than their own abilities. If we are not aware of God’s grace and we do not really live as those who understand and experience generous love through the on-going work of the Holy Spirit, then how are people going to see God as more than a take-it-or-leave-it idea in man’s thinking?
You have a past that has been forgiven by Jesus and there is a future awaiting you in heaven. You also have the Spirit of adoption here with you now to help you. Your part and mine is to open our hearts and minds to receive what is so generously offered.
“He who governed the world before I was born shall take care of it likewise when I am dead. My part is to improve the present moment.”
In the first adoption mentioned in the Bible, we see God’s mastery over all things. Pharaoh – the King of Egypt – had decreed the death of every Jewish boy in a society where there was no such thing as human rights. A boy called Moses is born and after only a few weeks of his life, his mother floats him off down the Nile in a waterproofed basket. His sister keeps an eye on what is going on and Pharaoh’s daughter finds Moses and draws him out of the water. Eventually Pharaoh’s daughter brings up Moses in the very household that had decreed his death, and pays his biological mother to nurse him (Exodus 2). So who do we really think is in charge?
We have been brought into His family and the fullness of our adoption (redemption of our bodes Rom 8:23) is a certainty because it is based on the work of Christ and all that God has done, is doing and will do.
In giving us His Spirit, God is not working for our downfall – He is here to help us grow in the freedom that is ours through Christ. Something of the depth of this adoption can be seen in the intimate term used for ‘father’ – ‘Abba.’ Surely it is because of God’s presence by the Holy Spirit that Martin Luther King could write the following:
“To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you…Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you…One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
Martin Luther King Jr in, Strength to Live.
When you come against an enemy in the strength of the Lord, you give him or her the opportunity to break free from what they have become, step out of the prison and grow in what will be by the grace of God alone. Now that’s power. Alternatively, you can respond to an enemy in the way they have come against you and do nothing more than make them stronger by way of the world.
One of the pictures in the Bible that I find encouraging is that of the farmer who was told by God to leave some of his crop so that those who had nothing could harvest it. The reason the landowner was instructed to help in this way is because it preserves the dignity of those who have nothing by granting them a share in what is ultimately God’s field. We need to remember that the only reason we have any standing before God is because of Jesus Christ, and that it is through His work and the on-going work of the Holy Spirit that we are drawn into His story. We need to share the wealth that is ours, in the power of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of adoption), so that others can taste and see that the Lord is good.
Sanctification (Becoming like Jesus)
The film, Machine Gun Preacher, was released into cinemas with an advertising slogan which read, “Hope is the greatest weapon of all.” The film tells the true story of a man called Sam Childers who, in a recent radio interview, spoke about growing up in a Christian family. He went to great lengths to say that there was nothing wrong with his family but that he had made wrong choices. By the age of 11 Childers was taking drugs and constantly in fights and at age 15, he was injecting drugs and dealing. Eventually Sam became a ‘Shot-gunner’ - an armed guard for drug dealers. During this period of his life, his father would often say, “you’re going to get killed” to his son who was now heavily involved in gangs and drugs and living with a stripper called Lynn who eventually become his wife.
When speaking about that period of his life, Childers stated that he could not get away from the words of his father, “you are going to get killed”, and eventually started to distance himself from his destructive lifestyle. At the same time Lynn, his girlfriend, returned to the Church she had left as a young adult.
Childers put his life back in God’s hands and later ran his own construction business. In 1998 he went to Yei in Southern Sudan during the second Sudanese War. He had gone with a team to repair damaged huts and one day came across the blown-up body of a child. He spoke to God and said that he would do whatever it took to help people. God laid it on his heart to build an orphanage on the Ugandan border. People thought he was crazy to do this because, at that time, the Lord’s Resistance Army (a rebel militia that had nothing to do with God) had kidnapped 30,000 children and murdered hundreds. Yet the orphanage was built.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 1 Thess 5:23-24
Whilst in Thessalonica, Paul shared the gospel in the synagogue and over a period of a few weeks some God-fearing Greeks and prominent women turned to Christ. Probably for the first time in their lives, they heard that there were no second-class citizens in God’s kingdom and that God has no favourites.
Some of the Jews who heard and saw what Paul was doing became jealous and formed a mob before starting a riot in order to hijack what was going on. They got the local council involved and in all the upheaval that was going on, Paul and Silas had to slip away during the night and head for Berea. The Bereans now had a chance to hear the gospel and many came to Christ, yet it was not long before some Thessalonians turned up trying to stir up trouble again.
If we are honest, things did not look very good for the new believers in Thessalonica, or to those looking on. After all, you hear about the power and wonder and love of God but then your main speakers have to do a runner whilst your antagonists seem to get away with everything. Yet the important point to note here is that although Paul and Silas needed to leave, the Holy Spirit remained with the fledgling church and against all worldly odds, it prospered and grew as its members became ‘oaks of righteousness’ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
In the contemporary church, sanctification is often seen as little more than learning a few verses and rituals and generally trying to do the best you can. Yet this is not true sanctification.
Sanctification is much more than a moral reformation of character as a person seeks to apply truth. It is the work of the Holy Spirit who seeks to bring the whole nature of our being into the maturity and blessing of His perfect work.
In China there was a time during which all foreign Christians were thrown out of the country, leading to many thinking that this would be the end of the church. Decades later, when the country became more open and missionaries went in once more (albeit secretly), they were amazed to find a vibrant, massive church with many having come to Christ in extraordinary ways.
For example, I remember my mother (who’d smuggled many bibles into China) telling us of a woman who’d found a page of a bible in the market-place and through it asked Jesus into her life. She lived in a small village that my mother and others went to, and when they started to tell her stories from the Bible, she said that she knew them because she had dreamed them. Meanwhile in the West, there are many who leave churches or distance themselves from other Christians at the drop of a hat, failing to realise that the problem they have is not around them, but is instead a heart that denies the on-going sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit.
This word ‘sanctify’ is all about the experience of being made right with God through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to become like Jesus, yet if we do not understand what this does and doesn’t mean, we can end up in unnecessary difficulty.
The Holy Spirit is the One who helps us to become more like Jesus. But we need to understand what it means to become more like Jesus because we can get it wrong, and as previously stated, when thinking is wrong, everything else can soon spiral downwards.
Being like Jesus is not about looking at the people around us whom we think are spiritual and attempting to be like them or even assuming that God wants us to be like them. All too often Christians measure themselves by some of the so-called ‘big’ testimonies they hear and end up feeling small and inadequate. In doing so they forget at least two things. Firstly, they are forgetting that they are just as important to God as anyone else, who did not save any of us because of what we could do for Him, but in order to bless us with what He alone could do. Secondly, they forget that God sees the widow’s coin (Mark 12:43) and a glass of water given in His name (Mark 9:41). All things are important to Him, no matter how they seem to us.
Being like Jesus is not about trying to copy others or even trying to copy the things that Jesus did in our own strength. Neither is being like Jesus about dealing with sin first and foremost, even after becoming a Christian, shocking though this may seem to some. The real heart of sin is not the breaking of some law that is written on a wall for us to see and follow. The essence of sin is a heart that ignores the teaching and personal guidance of God; it is a heart that refuses to engage with God and live as a son or daughter. Sometimes we battle away with sin but don’t get very far because we forget that the Holy Spirit deals with the roots of sin and not just the fruit. I must have a heart that wants to be open to God and seeks to know Him before I am going to find sin, or any other problem, something that I can deal with. Think of it like this…
Consider a new believer who is always overcome with fear. Well-meaning Christians keep telling this person that they need to trust God more, and often quote verses to him or her such as, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5-6) and “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Yet all this invariably does is make the young believer feel more and more condemned. Rather than homing in on the fear first and foremost, we should be helping the young believer to understand more of what God is like. Out of this, alongside the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit, they will eventually be able to overcome difficulty. Another example could be an alcoholic who comes to Christ and struggles with giving up alcohol. Everyone goes on about his or her difficulty and many secretly believe the person has not come to Christ because, invariably, they know someone who stopped being an alcoholic straight away. Time goes on and nothing really changes for the alcoholic because he or she has been encouraged to focus more on the problem than getting to know the One who has forgiven them and wants to help them find freedom in the Spirit.
Two monkeys were being chased through the jungle by a hunter and were eventually caught and put in separate cages. The first monkey tried to prise the bars apart, yet although they moved, he could not manage to break free. Over the next few hours he paced the cage and regularly applied all his strength to pulling the bars apart as he focused more and more on his predicament. Eventually he slumped down in the corner and looked across to see what his fellow captive was doing. To his surprise, the bars of the other cage had been prized open and the other monkey had gone. So how had this happened?
The other monkey, like our first one, had also pulled at the bars and found he could move them – but not enough to break free. He sat down in the corner of the cage and saw that there was food and water that had been provided for him. He ate the food, drank the water, rested and regained his strength before pulling open the bars and escaping. Get the point?
Being like Jesus is not trying to copy Jesus or those around us, nor is it trying to deal with sin first and foremost, strange though this may seem. So what does it mean to be like Jesus?
To put it simply, being like Jesus speaks of intimacy with our heavenly Father and reliance on the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Everything else flows from this. We are called to know Him, and the good news is that God wants to be known. However let’s remember that knowledge, in the worldly way of knowing, does not mean a person has fellowship with God. Someone may appear to be very spiritual because they can quote fifty verses of Scripture, yet they confuse others who see this seemingly knowledgeable individual continually judging others, not bothering to get to know people who are not like them and having a tendency to gossip. We would do well to remember that being able to quote fifty verses of Scripture from memory often proves nothing more than a good memory. Knowing God in a biblical sense speaks of understanding and experiencing intimacy of fellowship with the One who knows all about us, yet still loves us more than any other.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:17-18
The ‘ever-increasing glory’ that Paul mentions speaks of the way through which God works in space and time to point to Himself – the only hope that mankind has. Therefore, His glory can be seen in the intricate design of the heavens and earth (Psalm 19:1-2), His presence in the cloud that led the Israelites (Exodus 16:10) or like a burning fire on a mountain (Exodus 24:16). It is seen in Jesus (1:14) who clearly pointed to the Father in all things and yet who had His own glory veiled (John 17:5) having willingly subjected Himself to the limitations of the flesh.
We reflect the Lord’s glory, which speaks of the gentle and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit helping us in all things. Through His presence, we are able to open our lives to being moulded and shaped and strengthened by right thinking and actions; we grow from strength to strength (Prov 4:18, Hab 3:9, 1 Pet 4:11) with ‘ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’
“But our citizenship is in heaven - and we also await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.”
This week I was reading the story of a small girl called, Madin, who lives in Asia. Her father died, and her mother was despised and rejected by the rest of the community because, in her culture, if a husband died it was the widow who’d caused his death.
Madin and her mother and brother had to leave the village and move in with her grandmother. Her mother then married another man who did not want the children and therefore permanently dumped Madin with her grandmother.
Madin’s grandmother was also a widower and so Madin’s brother assumed the headship of the household and regularly beat her up. She was treated as a slave and not allowed to go to school. Eventually her grandmother went to a Christian Hope Centre to ask for help and Madin was enrolled in the school. Yet she was beaten so badly by her brother whilst on the way to school one day that she gave up and carried on living as a slave to the rest of the family.
The staff of Christian Hope Centre went to Madin’s home and talked to the whole family about the love of Jesus, after which they were asked to pray for the family. Ever since then, Madin has been going to school and is supported by those around her. In this, and so many millions of other stories from around the world, we read of the on-going work of God.
God is still in the business of the miraculous and He draws us into His ways and works in the everyday situations and circumstances that people find themselves in.