Thursday, September 17, 2009

Practical Theology for Women - Pt 6

The Spirit (chapters 11-12)

The Holy Spirit is the topic under discussion in the next section of Wendy’s book. One of the things which challenged and encouraged me as I read through this section was the way in which the Spirit is with us in our struggle against sin. I think one of the easiest lies to believe is that when we are tempted and struggle against this temptation that God stands back and just waits to see how we do, like a parent waiting to see whether little Mary will steal the cookie that she can reach. Yet, as Wendy teaches us, God has a resounding interest and involvement in making us holy. God’s Spirit is at work in us, by his Word, transforming us into the image of Christ. This means the Christian life is genuinely supernatural, not just us trying to live by the Bible’s ethical code by our own effort. The work of the Spirit is far bigger than we can imagine.

It’s bigger than we can imagine because this sanctification the Spirit is working in us is also future driven. I liked how Wendy made that point as she unpacked the work of the Spirit. God, by his Spirit, is making us look more and more like we will when we see Jesus face to face (1 John 3:2). This transformation that God’s Spirit is performing in us is not just to try and get us to follow a set of rules, but is something which reflects the priorities and goals of Christ’s kingdom, which established in us blooms into its fullness when time is finished and Jesus is revealed to all as King of Kings. Our holiness is not a minor detail or something that God is doing while he waits for this, but is part of his plan to display the glories of Christ in our lives - his workmanship. God’s Spirit is at work to transform us in line with the future that he has sealed us for. This perspective is much wider than any ‘follow-the-rules’ limited vision could be, and should give us fresh energy to battle sin: it’s not about our self-improvement; when we co-operate with the Spirit as he works to make us holy, it brings and will bring glory to Jesus.

I found Wendy’s example of speaking from Ephesians 4:29-32 really helpful in thinking through this. Most of us find this issue one we need to work on, so when we are thinking about struggling with sin and co-operating with the Spirit, it’s a great issue to use as an example. It is humbling to realise just how seriously God takes our holiness that the words we speak (and we say so much in a day!) matter to him. I really like the way Ephesians sets up the choice: words that break down and words that build up. It’s such a stark contrast, with only two options offered, and shows how much our words matter - they have an impact on other people. So, our words are not just ‘our’ words, but they matter to God and have an effect on others: the stakes are high. It is immensely comforting that God’s Spirit is with us, transforming us and even praying for us in our struggle to speak well.

I think when we catch a glimpse of how holy God wants us to be, the impossible nature of the task can feel overwhelming. I appreciated the reminder as Wendy unpacked the work of the Holy Spirit, that God doesn’t leave us. He is always with us in the person of his Spirit. And as he works to transform us, he prays for us, so that we aren’t left alone with this immense holiness project. The struggle to please God is as much his work in us as it is our response to him. His constant reminders of the Lord Jesus and his death and resurrection for us as the foundation for all our holiness, is further evidence that he is with us, comforting our hearts with the reminder of our Saviour and his extravagant love for us.

This is truly good news. God calls us to a life of holiness, which will glorify his Son in the future and the present. And God does not leave us by ourselves to muddle through. By his Spirit, he changes us to be more like Jesus. By his Spirit and through his Word he shows us what sin is and how to turn away from it, to do things which honour Jesus. By his Spirit, he pleads for us, reminding us of Jesus. God is not far away or slightly unimpressed by us. God is with us, even as we mourn and struggle with our sin. He is changing us, bringing us to his glorious home.

1. What about the Holy Spirit has meant the most to you as you’ve read through these chapters?

2. As you think about your words, which area/s would you like to pay particular attention to: speaking the truth, not gossiping or slandering, speaking kindly and graciously, genuine encouragement, speaking to strangers ... (and any others you might think of)?

3. Wendy helpfully points out that the Spirit is always interested in pointing us to Jesus, and therefore a ministry that is Christ-centred is very much a Spirit-based ministry. How is this useful in assessing different ministries or choosing a church?

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