The Wisdom Wednesday last post hinted that the Holy Spirit invites people into a dance full of grace. He doesn’t just stop at that though, he also confirms that we are a child of God, even when we don’t feel like a daughter or son of the Creator.
Deep Seated Reality
To pull from Henri Nouwen again, it is important to see that when we call God “Abba, Father” it means more than calling God by a close name. It’s a cry of the soul, surfacing from a deep seated reality– it is claiming God as the very source of who we are. For those who are in Christ, they have the incredible honor of being called a daughter or son of God.
In Romans 8, Paul writes that the Spirit of God (read: the Holy Spirit) cries out within us. It is he who helps us in our prayers when we don’t quite know what to pray for. It is he who helps us speak, even when we don’t know what to say at times.
Nouwen would say that it’s through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we have the same “intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had.” Paul would put it even clearer, writing that if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead would also give life to your mortal body. How incredible is that? It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Holy Spirit As Our Down Payment
While, the Spirit makes it possible for us to know and recognize Jesus, he also can be seen as a down payment of sorts. Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen wrote that since the Kingdom of God has broken into the world, the Holy Spirit acts as an initial offering of the glory to come (see I Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14) and as the first installment of the believer’s inheritance in the Kingdom (Rom 8:15-17; 14:17; I Cor 6:9-11; 15:42-50; Gal 4:6-7). Or as the second century Church Father Tertullian would write, “By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith?” It is the Holy Spirit that connects us to God and empowers us.
He will not only be an initial down payment for us, he will also make us become more like Jesus. But more on that next week.
Believing is important. Signing off on a belief though is not necessarily the most important thing.
In other words, we don’t have to get everything right. Getting everything right is not necessarily the most important thing for a follower of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I want to state for the record that I am big into believing someone when it comes to Christianity. But belief in this context is not necessarily about passing a theological pop quiz on something or the SAT for Spirituality. No, belief is placing your trust in someone— trusting in Christ. It’s like placing your trust in the strength of a chair when you sit down after a long day.
Even when it comes to believing in something as sure as a chair, sometimes you can have your seemingly routine faith shaken. There are moments when your confidence in a chair will be shaken, that’s what happened to me a couple of years ago (*cue flashback sequence*).
One day a co-worker played a practical joke on me and wedged a sharpened pencil into my chair at work. It was meant to be spotted before I sat down in the chair, after all who doesn’t spot a brand new pencil on their chair? Answer: This guy.
Even though he tried to stop me from sitting down, this practical joke turned into a stinging pain. Thankfully, there was no major damage besides my ego, and now it’s pretty funny to remember. However, it took me months and months to rely on chairs again for places of comfort and safety. I lost my hope in chairs, if you will, and had to check every chair I sat on for many months. I could not simply sit down and relax without thinking. No, I was not confident in the reliability of chairs and was worried that another sharpened No. 2 pencil could be lurking on every park bench and sofa.
Even though my faith was shaken, I still had to sit. It is true that I have a standing desk at work now, but I simply cannot go through life standing for decades. No, I needed to develop an assurance in chairs again (seriously though, this event really made me hesitant to sit down!). Chair by chair, I relearned to trust in chairs again (quit laughing!).
See, I don’t have to get everything right. I don’t have to get my theology right or develop a rational approach to chair sitting. At the risk of sounding absurd: I had to put my trust in chairs again. Certainly, having sound theology or a sound rational approach to chairs might be important, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is belief in Jesus, having a trust in him even when things get shaky.
Perhaps you haven’t had a pencil situation. Maybe, it’s more along the lines of trusting in God– trusting in him when all is lost. I hope and pray that you might consider giving it another shot. During tough times, when my faith is shaken, I look to the Psalms. I read those ancient songs and poems, for they express the emotions of humanity in raw form. They express anger, sorrow, loneliness, joy, and despair. Even though every emotion is on display, the common theme through the entire songbook of Israel is that the writers placed their trust in the LORD.
Even when things got dark. Even when things got shaky, they trusted in the LORD.
I hope you might consider becoming big on believing, even when things get dicey.
Our pastor recently said that what is true about Jesus will be true of those who are united in Christ.
Think about that for a second.
If we have been united in Christ, we too can share the same Spirit of power that raised Jesus from the dead. Pretty incredible!
I did a search of “in Christ” at Biblegateway, and it is true that Paul is obsessed with this phrase. Not only are we raised to newness of life in Christ (see I Corinthians 15 and my previous post on this), but we are also a new creation (II Cor 5:17), we have freedom (Gal 2:14), we have been justified/declared righteous (Gal 2:16), and we are sons and daughters of God in Christ (Gal 3:26). More can certainly be written, since there are more examples of this phrase in Paul’s writings, but I hope you get the picture that being “in Christ” is more than kind of a big deal.
Our lives in Christ
Since being in Christ is a big deal, I hope you understand that our core definition of who we are is not our career, our marriage, our hobbies, or our history. No, it is who we are in Christ. A flower is beautiful whether it is connected to the root or when it is freshly cut. However, that flower will slowly wither if it is not connected to anything. We too must be connected to Jesus, like a flower planted in a beautiful garden. We too can be connected to a sustained life.
Don’t get me wrong though, being in Christ does not mean that all will be golden. We will be called to live differently, to act differently, and to speak differently. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Whether that conflict means a sword or heavy criticism from loved ones, being in Christ can produce incredible discomfort. For being in Christ means you are part of a different Kingdom, different than the darkness that is so often around us. Sometimes, this difference will promote tremendous conflict. We are given the choice, the chance to be a part of a grand story. You and I can become part of the story of God, the story of the Kingdom breaking into a broken world. If we are in Christ, we too can become a part of that narrative. We too can become be immersed into this story.
But dear friend, if you are in Christ, know that there is no condemnation, there is only an abundant life. You will be united in Him in his death and resurrection. As I mentioned previously, don’t worry about going to heaven when you die, know and be assured that if you are in Christ you will be given life. The resurrection of the dead and life everlasting will happen, and you will be in that number.
My time at Fuller Seminary has dramatically shaped me in many ways. One of the ways that it has formed me is the profound realization that Christianity is not concerned primarily with “going to heaven when I die.”
Please hear me out before you send off a tweet like, “Farewell @jeremydriley” or “@jeremydriley has gone heretical. Next he’ll be talking about how Five Guys is better than In-n-Out.” (For the record, In-n-Out beats Five Guys every day of the week)
I’ve noticed that there is an underlying theme to the New Testament, a tune that recurs in the Gospels and Epistles. As symphonies and movie scores use a recurring theme under a piece of music, the constant tune that reappears and reinvents itself in so many different ways in the NT, is that of union with Christ.
One thing you need to know about me is that I enjoy classical music. I love the emotion that captures me, it’s so unlike any other type of music. One of the pieces that caught me at a particular event was when the Pacific Symphony in Orange County played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (If you haven’t heard, you really need to give it a try). There is a part in the piece that the music grows in intensity and it left me emotionally paralyzed in my chair (it starts at the 6:30 mark in the video). As it builds, the crescendo is finally reached and the music slowly winds down for the next couple of minutes.
If the New Testament was like a symphony, Paul would see the high point, the crescendo of our lives, as union with Christ. Reading through his letters, we see this constant theme, this steady refrain of “in Christ.” Go ahead and give it a look. You’ll find Paul pressing this point many times in his letters.
Yes, I believe we will “go to heaven.” But heaven is not the end. Heaven is only the beginning. If you are in Christ, there will be a life after this life after death, as NT Wright would put it. Think about this for a moment: there will be a new heavens and new earth. Our bodies will be resurrected, just as Jesus’ body was restored to life on Easter morning. Thankfully, we won’t be like zombies with a hunger for brains, but instead we will be physical like Jesus, our bodies will be restored and renewed.
If we have been joined to Jesus, in his death, then we will be joined in his glorious resurrection.
Think of it this way, Jesus is like a prototype. He is the firstfruits, as Paul would write in I Corinthians 15. His resurrection means for us (if you are in Christ) that we too can be raised to newness of life and experience a form of it now. We too can go through death without the sting, for Jesus the crucified Messiah has given us victory. That, my friends, is something you can hold onto.
But what does union with Christ mean for us here and now? Head over to part 2 for the thrilling conclusion!
What other themes do you find in the New Testament?
I once heard a Jewish speaker and a Christian man on two separate occurrences speak about the necessity of being good. If you want to get right with God, then you need to be more good and less bad. Not a bad system, right?
Personally, I like to think that I’m good. I like to picture myself stopping for someone in need when I am able. I like to think that I would meet someone else’s needs and that I’d let people into my traffic lane on the 405 (yes, the 405, you non-Californians).
My dirty secret is that I don’t go the extra mile on a daily basis, I don’t stop for others at a drop of the hat, and I grudgingly let others into my lane (only if they might dent my car if I don’t brake). Truth be told, I have issues!
The good news is that I don’t have to go up to God with a chart showing my gold stars or a screenshot of how many ‘likes’ I have. In fact, the good news is when I go down and down further into my issues and baggage that God is there.
This shocking, counterintuitive, and revolutionary good news is that in my greatest moment of despair, failure, sin, weakness, losing, failing, frustration, inability, helplessness, wandering, and falling short that God meets me there.
He doesn’t meet us on the ground level or basement.
I’m talking about the bottom of the deepest, darkest coal mine. God meets us in the inner recesses of that mine and whispers comfortingly: “I am on your side.”
God meets us there, in the bowels of despair, and he takes us by the hand and leads us out of that darkness.
Being led out of the dark into the light. God meets us in ordinary times, as I mentioned in the last post. God is with us, and he meets us in the darkest corner of our lives and demonstrates that he is for us. That, my friends, is news you can use.
(2nd of 3 parts on Rob Bell’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About God)
I was asked recently to explain how I know that I am a Christian. Talk about a high-stress question! It took me a little bit of time to think through my answer, but I was able to articulate it this way. I wrote to them this,
“I know that I am a Christian because of the completed work of Christ and my trust in his redemptive work on my behalf. I know that I am in Christ not because of some formula or particular prayer, but in the promise of redemption through a living faith in Jesus. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that I know that I am justified and sanctified.
“Being an evangelical Christian, is more than just passive experience. It is embodying a life coming into alignment with the Kingdom of God, being conformed into the image of Christ. And it is through this that I know that I am a Christian. Jesus has promised salvation, and this assurance is grounded in the promises of Scripture and is confirmed in the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.”
The faith of the Christ-following community hinges on the fact that Jesus once died, was buried, rose from the grave, and ascended to heaven. That is why Holy Week is so very important to the life of the Church. This zeroes in on the time Jesus spent in Jerusalem in his final week, starting with his glorious entrance on Palm Sunday and culminating in his horrific crucifixion on Good Friday.
As the week soon turns to betrayal on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and the brutal execution of Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, on a Friday afternoon, I hope that you know that you can have an assurance of salvation.
I hope and pray that God will be with you during this heavy week.
Do you think God deals with us all in the same manner? Do you think every person needs to affirm the same thing, quit the same sins, and all become something new?
I’m going to be honest here, and say something very candid. It might offend some, and I’m sorry if I do. Please hear me out though.
I don’t think we all have to be born again to be in the Kingdom.
I don’t think we all have to sell all we have, give it to the poor, and go after Jesus.
I don’t think we all have to abandon our father’s fishing company and go live a life on the road, as James and John did.
Why would I make those statements? Because I think Jesus deals with us one-on-one. He sees us and speaks to us individually, not issuing cookie-cutter responses to our needs. When he met the rich ruler of Luke 18, he confronted him with what he needed to do, telling him to sell his possessions. When he spoke with Matthew, he told him to leave his practice and follow him. The Roman centurion in Matthew 8 had a faith that was stronger than those in Israel, and Jesus commended his faith, letting him stay in the military. Nicodemus in the famous encounter of John 3, on the other hand, was told that he needed to be born again.
Jesus, in these four encounters, handled each situations differently. He dealt with the individual directly, not with everyone generally. For the rich ruler, it is implied that the man made an idol out of money. He needed to get rid of it completely, not just change his spiritual condition. The centurion, on the other hand, was probably well-off like the man in Luke 18. Yet, he was treated by Jesus on a different level than the ruler.
I have a sinking suspicion that God wants to deal with us in different ways.
Certainly though, the preaching pattern of Paul seem to demonstrate that we need to call upon the name of the Lord. We need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, according to Romans 10.9. Yet, I think we all will have different roads to get to this conclusion. We all will be treated differently when it comes to the road to redemption. Some might need a “Damascus Road” conversion, with a dramatic appearance of Jesus himself. Others, will need a quiet voice nudging them to the cross. Yet others will need to see the grandeur of nature to meet the Creator of it all.
God works differently for different people. While you might not need to be born again, you might need to be hugged into the Kingdom or swiftly kicked in the pants into God’s grace.
How did God bring you into his grace? (I had to be kicked in the pants several times.)
Loving God is important. I think most Christians will come to this conclusion.
But wouldn’t we say grasping a picture of who he is is pretty darned important as well? While both you and I will never fully grasp his nature this side of eternity, we can know him a little more clearly than when we initially first believed. And just like a couple who have been married for 50 years will know each other in profound ways decades down the road of marriage, so too will the individual who places their hope in God and has a relationship with him. That is why I am advocating for clearer language about the infinite God who so clearly loves us and has revealed himself to us both in Christ and through the Bible.
Let me frame it this way. I love my wife (true story). Yet, if I compose a poem about how beautiful she is, how I adore her personality, marvel at her breathtaking charm, and think her long, brown hair is incredible I would just be flat out wrong. Not because of the three initial points, but because she has short, blonde hair. My description of her is inaccurate and not complete. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love her any less, it just means I am wrong in my descriptions of her and of her essence. I get a bit of her, but not the entire picture. Same thing goes with the Trinitarian God. We need to know who he is, and the true God is Trinity. As Jesus prayed, “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17.3).
Trinity matters because that is how God has revealed himself to us. God is not some idea, he is real. The living God is Trinity– he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is one what and three who’s, or one who and three what’s. God is not just one dude hanging out in heaven navel-gazing. If he was, then he would have been alone for eternity. He would not have known fellowship. That is why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are flat out wrong (beside the fact that they misread the Greek and are a reincarnation of Arianism that was rejected in 325 AD, but I digress). He is one God in three persons, enjoying communion and knowing what it means to have fellowship. I highly doubt this fictional, non-Trinity would have love at the core of his being, since he would have been alone for eternity and not have learned how to love! But this God, the true God, knows love because he is relational and he is love.
So I invite you to enjoy and seek out the Trinitarian God of the Bible. For he is a Father who lovingly gave life to his Son in the fellowship of the Spirit. He is an other-centered God and he is inviting you into the party. I pray that you will join the Trinitarian dance and revel in it.
For more see,
Is it possible to be a conflict-free Christian?
I was reading over an article in a magazine that was speaking to the phenomena of Christians in the Islamic world. These were not the types that were oppressed by the Islamic rulers and the ones who have their churches set on fire. No, these were the ones that still attended mosques upon conversion. These were the men who would go into the mosque and pray on Friday afternoons. They are Jesus followers who remained in the mosque, worshiping the Triune God instead of the Islamic Allah.
In case you haven’t heard about this trend, this has been a controversial topic (see Muslim Followers of Jesus? from Christianity Today), and the question that is often raised is that this phenomenon counters the heart of the Gospel. It could possibly mix two separate religions, and this would in turn dilute the uniqueness of Jesus. For Jesus is not a prophet as Islam would teach, instead he is God (which is a blasphemous statement for a Muslim).
The way I see it, the general candor of the New Testament seems to portray the Christian life as being counterintuitive. It is about making a declaration of faith and then stepping into a different life trajectory or citizenship. Whether it was the renouncing of pagan ways in ancient Greece or choosing to authentically follow Jesus in Middle America, becoming a Christ follower can create discomfort from mild to extreme. It confronts you with the necessity to sometimes get your hands dirty and do uncomfortable things, like renouncing your former religion in spite of a death sentence.
We need to remain faithful
It was incredibly difficult to write that last sentence. While I might never know what it is like to come face-to-face with a sword for my religious views, I know that both in America and abroad, followers of Christ are called to be faithful. We are called to live authentic lives for the Kingdom of God and to speak the good news that Jesus is the Risen Lord.
Being faithful is about living well. What does that exactly look like? James would say that the pure religion of Jesus looks like caring for widows and remaining unstained from the world. In other words, it’s about acting justly and graciously towards the marginalized people of society. It is also about living lives that are purified (perhaps, purifying) and transformed by the grace of God.
We need to remain humble
It is not enough to be faithful and stand against a storm. We need to also be humble. The truth for all Christ followers, whether in Islamic lands or in post- Christian nations, is that we are people who have been graciously redeemed. We have been made children of God, by the grace of God, for the glory of God.
Adopted into the family. That is the imagery that Paul uses in Ephesians and it is an imagery I like to use as well. Because it demonstrates that the child has not earned himself into right standing with the parent. Her quick wit was not enough to get her into a home. No, it was the gracious act of the adopter. And for those who are in Christ, you and I have been graciously brought into a warm home. How fortunate is that? Why would or should I ever boast?
We need to trust that God is in control
The Lord will take care of you and I, that is why we need to be people who are both faithful and humble.
Even when things go awry. Even when everything seems to fall apart.
I was reminded of that in reading through Job. Here was a godly man, someone who was faithful towards the Lord. Yet, he experienced a tremendous amount of garbage. In the closing chapters of this book, Job was reminded that God was in control, even in the dark hours.
We need to remain faithful to the Lord, even when things go bad. We need to stay humble, even when things go right. God is in control over our situations, whether we are in Anytown USA or the streets of Cairo, and for that I cling to him.
Great post over at The Gospel Coalition about Francis Schaeffer and the vitality of the Christian life. Here is a highlight that stuck out to me:
Francis Schaeffer came to discover, many years after his conversion, that the finished work of Christ mattered—mattered tremendously—for his present life. Not just for his past moment of conversion and not only for the future moment when he would stand before God. For today. As he says elsewhere, “I become a Christian once for all on the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification. But the Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment.”
The gospel is a home, not a hotel. We pass through a hotel; we reside in a home. And it was when this washed over him—note this, now—it was when his heart came to dwell in the finished work of Christ that his soul began to live again. “Gradually the sun came out and the song came.” Poetry flowed once more. Vitality returned. Orthodoxy had never left; life, however, had.
Doctrine matters. But doctrine is meant to fuel some thing else—beautiful, radiant living. Standing immovably on the finished work of Christ will get us there.
While we should have deep theologically rooted faith in Christ, we must also maintain a fire burning within our lives.
Doctrine is meant to fuel some thing else—beautiful, radiant living.