From One Degree of Glory to Another.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV

Paul continues his use of Moses as a comparison. Moses, as a result of his exposure to the glory of God during his time on top of Mount Sinai, actually glowed when he came back down the mountain. God's glory rubbed off on him, so to speak. And when the people saw Moses’ face, they were terrified. They had never seen anything like it before in their lives. So Moses covered it up with a veil. But in time, the glory or glow began to fade. But rather than let the people in on the secret, he continued to wear the veil and hide the fact that his glorification was impermanent.

But Paul’s point is that Moses’ temporary glory was symbolic of the temporary nature of the Old Covenant. It too, would come to an end. It would be replaced with something far better. The glory Moses received was external in nature. His skin glowed. But like a bad sunburn, over time it began to fade. The New Covenant, made possible by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, provides us with a different kind of glory. Because of the work of the Spirit in our lives, we have had the veil removed. And that act has accomplished two very important things. It has freed us up from having to pretend as if we are something we are not. For Moses, the veil became a cover-up, a means of hiding reality. At one time, we too were stuck trying to act as if we were spiritual through external acts that led those around us to believe we were something we were not. We veiled our lostness with self-righteousness. But then the Spirit opened our eyes. And that's the second significant thing that happened when the veil was removed. We were able to see Christ in all His glory. For the first time we were capable of recognizing Jesus for who He is and able to accept what He had done for us. The removed veil signifies our acknowledgement of our own sinfulness and the Spirit-endowed ability to see the freedom made available to us through Jesus.

Paul says, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. We have the Spirit of Christ present within us. This does not mean that the Spirit and Jesus are one in the same. It simply means that they share their divinity and to have one is to have the other. The Spirit allows us to have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the love of Christ, and the nature of Christ. And His presence within us frees us up from having to try to earn favor with God through acts of self-righteousness. We now depend solely upon the righteousness of Christ that was imputed to us by God. We share in Christ's righteousness, so when God looks at us, He sees us as perfectly righteous, just as His Son was.

But Paul’s main point in these closing verses seems to be that we are able to see the glory of the Lord in the lives of one another. It is an internal, eternal glory that emanates not from the outside, but from the inside. It begins in the heart and flows out of us so that others can see it and experience it. It shows up as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It manifests itself in the gifts of the Spirit, resulting in the building up the body of Christ. We can see each other being transformed into the same image, the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another – progressively and proactively – by the Spirit within us. “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We are to reflect the glory of the Lord. We are to literally glow with His glory. In the very next chapter, Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 NLT). We have the light of Christ shining in our lives in the form of the Holy Spirit. We have the capacity to see the glory of Christ because we have had the veil removed from our eyes. We can see Him when we read the Word. We can see Him working in the lives of those around us. And Paul goes on to say, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT). That light within us is to shine out of us. Others should be able to see the glory of Christ reflected in our actions, attitudes, speech and conduct. Our changed lives are to be living proof of the transformative power of Christ’s work on the cross and the Spirit’s presence within us. We are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another. And one day, we will be like Him – glorified, perfectly righteous, completely sinless, and enjoying the unbroken pleasure of His presence.

Open Eyes. Changed Hearts.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-16 ESV

For Paul, the new covenant was permanent and irreplaceable. That brought him hope. It was not based on man's efforts, but God's grace. That brought him hope. It transformed men and women from the inside out. That brought him hope. Since his conversion, he had personally witnessed the transformative powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had seen it dramatically change his own life. He had watched as those to whom me ministered, both Jews and Gentiles, were radically redeemed and reformed by God. And it gave him hope and provided him with boldness. In fact, his compares his own boldness with that of Moses. But he uses an interesting Greek word, parrēsia, which can mean “boldness”, but also, “openly, frankly, i.e. without concealment”. I believe this has more to do with what Paul is trying to say. He is using Moses as a comparison. In his day, when he had received the law from God, a residual effect of the experience was a visible radiance or glow to his skin that others could see. His time spent on the mountain in the presence of God’s glory had left a tell-tale sign, and it so disturbed the people, that Moses took to covering his face with a veil. But as Paul says, the time came when the glory began to fade, yet Moses continued to wear the veil. He not only hid his face, he hid the truth. He concealed the reality of what was happening to him. The fading of the glory on the face of Moses was a symbol of the inevitability that the glory of the old covenant would also fade. It was destined for replacement. It was designed for obsolescence.

Over in the book of Hebrews, the author, quoting the words of God recorded in the book of Jeremiah 31, writes, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 ESV). Notice that phrase, “write them on their hearts”. It is most likely what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). The new covenant is not like the old. It is not based on a set of laws written on stone requiring the strict obedience of men. In other words, under the new covenant, the laws of God are no longer external and based on human adherence to work. They are internal and dependent on the indwelling Spirit of God to convict and conform the life of the believer to the will of God. It is not the law that has been replaced. It is the method by which man attempts to live according to it. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13 ESV). The means by which men were expected to maintain a right relationship with God was fading away. It was being replaced by something new and far superior. The old covenant was based on outward conformance to God's laws. It did nothing to change the heart. It was pure legalism, and it was destined to fail. No matter how hard man tried, he could not stop sinning. He could not keep the law perfectly. But when Jesus came, He did. He was obedient, even to the point of death. He did the will of His Father without fail, including keeping the law. Why? Because His heart was right with God. His was an internal obedience. And His death on the cross ushered in the new covenant, what He referred to as the new covenant in His blood. When Jesus shared the Passover meal with the disciples just prior to His betrayal, arrest and trials, He said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT).  Matthew records that Jesus also said, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). But many would fail to recognize the significance of Jesus’ death. Paul indicates that their eyes were veiled. He is referring to the Jews who, when reading the Old Testament writings concerning the law, were unable to see the truth about Jesus. Like Moses, their eyes were veiled. The truth was concealed from them. But Paul says, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16 ESV). Their eyes are opened. The Spirit of God gives them the capacity to see the truth regarding Jesus’ death and the wonderful reality of the new covenant that makes a right relationship with God possible – no longer based on human effort, but on faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And that truth provided Paul with boldness, an openness and frankness that made to good news of Jesus Christ available to any and all who would listen.

Surpassing Glory.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. – 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 ESV

In this chapter, Paul is contrasting what he calls the ministry of condemnation, or the law, and the ministry of righteousness, or that of the Spirit. In doing so he refers back to the occasion when Moses received the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments from God. Over in the Book of Exodus we read, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:29-30 ESV). As a result of his time spent in the presence of God, Moses walked away physically changed. He literally glowed. And it was so disconcerting that the people were afraid to come near him. So Moses solved the problem by wearing a veil over his face. Every time he met with God, he took the veil off. When he returned to the people, he would put it back on. But Paul tells us the veil became a replacement for the real thing. He kept wearing the veil even long after the glory had faded. “We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away” (2 Corinthians 3:13 NLT). Verse seven says that glory “was being brought to an end.” It was temporary, not permanent. Just as the ministry of the law was meant to be temporary and not permanent. The law couldn't save. It could only reveal man's desperate need for a Savior. It could provide a standard by which man was to live, but no means to do so. Which is why Paul wrote, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). 

The writer of Hebrews echoes this same sentiment. “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). The former glory of the law, revealing the righteousness of God to man, has been surpassed or superseded by the glory of God as revealed through the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for men to live righteously. We are no longer reliant on human effort alone in our attempt to please God. We enjoy the surpassing glory of God's indwelling Spirit. Ours is not some kind of external glow like Moses had. Long after the glow began to fade from his face, Moses was still putting on the veil. He was wearing a mask. The glory he experienced was impermanent. But ours is lasting. Our salvation is assured. The Holy Spirit's presence in us is permanent. And none of it is based on works or human effort. It is solely, completely dependent upon faith. “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Romans 1:17 NLT). The law couldn't save. It could only condemn. And yet, it was considered glorious. It came directly from the hand of God. And Moses, the one who received it from God, was so impacted by it all, that he glowed. He carried the glory of God in his hands and on his face. But that glory was never meant to last. Referring to laws concerning food, festivals, holy days and Sabbaths, Paul wrote, “For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (Colossians 2:17 NLT). He goes on to say, “So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Colossians 2:20-23 NLT). The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is a surpassing glory. It’s internal, not external. It’s permanent, not temporary. It’s a sure thing, not a shadow. God has written His message of righteousness, “not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). We have the capacity to live, think, and act like Christ. We aren’t stuck trying to live righteously on our own. We have the Spirit of God empowering us to live like the Son of God. Which is why Paul can say, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT).

The Spirit Gives Life.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV

Paul knew what it was like to attempt to live up to God's standards. Of his own admission, he had been a poster-boy for adherence to the Mosaic law. “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:5-6 NLT). He had the pedigree and the religious resume to prove that he had been a loyal, law-abiding, God-fearing Jew who had done everything in his power to keep God happy and earn his way into His good favor. But now, after having come to faith in Christ, Paul knew that adherence to the law was a dead-end street that would never lead anyone to a right relationship with God. Referring to the law, he says point blank, “the letter kills”. He had learned that it was the Spirit who made possible life in Christ and a restored relationship with God. Paul had seen the changes made in the lives of the believers in Corinth – written on human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:3). The remarkable transformation of their lives, made possible by their faith in Christ and the Spirit's presence in their lives, was all the proof Paul needed. God had done for them what the law could never have accomplished. “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).

According to Paul, our new life in Christ is made possible by the Spirit who lives within us. It is not based on human effort any more than our salvation was. He had to reprimand the Galatian believers about this very thing. “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). Life in Christ is never accomplished in the flesh. It is the work of the Spirit. It is our faith in Christ and our dependence upon the Spirit that makes possible our ongoing transformation. Any attempt at self-righteousness on our part will not end well. Self-sanctification is impossible. It is the work of God accomplished through the power of His indwelling Spirit. It is the difference between our sinful, natural self and our new, Spirit-directed nature.

In his earlier letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul raised the important distinction between our old nature and our new nature in Christ. “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49 ESV). We are new creations. We are spiritual creatures who have a spiritual destiny. We are no longer of this world. We are children of God who bear the likeness of His Son. We have within us the very Spirit of God. His divine DNA now flows within us, giving us spiritual life and vitality. Yes, we still have human bodies that are slowly decaying and dying. We still struggle with the presence of our sin natures. But Paul reminds us that the Spirit gives life – new life. We are capable of living righteously and rightly. We are no longer slaves to sin and left to struggle through life attempting to earn our way into God's good graces. Jesus, the last Adam, became a life-giving spirit. He gave His life so that we might have new life. He sent the Spirit to live in us so that we might live like Him. We have a new capacity to live obediently and faithfully that we never had before. That's why Paul can so confidently state, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:20-21 ESV). Our righteousness is not based on our human effort. It is based on faith in the Son of God and a reliance on the Spirit of God. “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” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). We have all that we need to live the life we have been called to live. We have salvation through Christ. We have sanctification through the Spirit. God has done and is doing all that is necessary to accomplish His will in our lives. And all that we are required to bring to the table is our faith.

Living Letters.

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV

One of the recurring problems Paul faced in his ministry was the pervasive presence of a group of individuals often referred to as Judaizers. These were Jewish believers who were strong proponents of the Mosaic law. It was their belief that salvation, as offered through Christ, was only complete when accompanied by strict adherence to the Old Testament law as given by God through Moses. So in their opinion, any Gentiles who came to faith in Christ through Paul's ministry were required to keep the commands as outlined in writings of Moses found in the Pentateuch. This would include such things as circumcision and observance of all the dietary restrictions. These individuals seem to have followed Paul wherever he went, causing a great deal of confusion among the new believers. These Judaizers even raised doubts concerning Paul's qualifications as an apostle and the efficacy of his ministry. So Paul found himself constantly having to defend himself. Unlike the Judaizers, who carried letters of recommendation to validate themselves, Paul preferred to use the transformed lives of those who had come to faith in Christ as proof of his calling. He asked them, “do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV). Their transformed lives was all the evidence necessary to validate Paul's words and work. Their hearts had been changed dramatically and permanently by the Spirit of the living God. Paul describes them as a letter from Christ “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). Here he makes a clear comparison between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant. The tablets of stone are a reference to the Ten Commandments as given to Moses by God. During the period of the Old Covenant, men were required to keep the Law in order to remain in a right standing with God. God had made perfectly clear His expectations regarding man's behavior. The law spelled out His commands pertaining to man's vertical relationship (with Him) and horizontal relationships (with others). God expected obedience. But God also knew man was incapable of keeping the law. That's why He made provision for man's disobedience by instituting the sacrificial system. It made possible forgiveness for sin. But it was a temporary fix and could never provide complete forgiveness for sin. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared” (Hebrews 10:1-2 NLT). God had never intended the law to be the means of man's salvation. It was meant to show us our sinfulness. No one could keep God's law perfectly. Again, the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 NLT).

Paul told the believers in Rome, “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:21-22 NLT). So why was the law given in the first place? Paul tells us. “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). Then he adds, “Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian” (Galatians 3:24-25 NLT). With the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, everything changed. Man's salvation and sanctification were no longer dependent upon his keeping of the law, but on faith in the finished work of Christ. Which is why Paul so vehemently states, “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:38-39 NLT).

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been made right with God, not based on our own human efforts or attempts at righteous living, but based on the sacrificial death of the Son of God. And we have been given the Holy Spirit as evidence of this fact. He lives within us, providing proof of our transformation and power to live as what we have become in Christ – new creatures. Which is why Paul tells us, “And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says, ‘This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’” (Hebrews 10:15-16 NLT).

Our changed lives are all the proof we need that what Christ did on the cross was effective. The Holy Spirit's convicting and comforting presence within us encourages us to believe that we truly have been changed. Our sins are forgiven. Our debts have been paid. Our salvation is assured. Our eternity is secure.

A Holy Habitat.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

During their years spent wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had the tabernacle, provided for them by God, as the place to offer sacrifices to Him. Within the Holy of Holies, His presence dwelt above the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. So holy was this room, that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the High Priest allowed to enter in to make atonement for sin on behalf of the people. Later, during the reign of King Solomon, God's presence would dwell in the Holy of Holies inside the temple that Solomon had built. After Solomon had dedicated and prayed over the temple, God responded by saying, “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9:3 ESV). But years later, due to the sins of the people of Israel, God allowed the temple to be destroyed when the Babylonians ransacked the city of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant and all the treasures of the temple were stolen. And for all intents and purposes, the people of God no longer enjoyed or were assured of God's presence in their midst.

To be the people of God, but to have no assurance of the presence of God, would be a difficult condition to endure. To constantly wonder if God was with you, cared for you, or was even aware of your condition, would be disconcerting and discouraging. But God had warned Solomon that if the people refused to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would reap the consequences of their unfaithfulness. But He also told him, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). They would once again experience His favor and enjoy His presence. But even after God returned to the people to the land after 70 years in exile and even after He provided a way for them to rebuild the temple and restore the city of Jerusalem, they remained obstinate and disobedient – for generations.

Then at just the right time, God sent His Son. God knew He could not count on the faithfulness of men, so He sent His Son to earth as a man, so that He could do what no other man had ever done – live a totally sinless and righteous life, in perfect obedience to God. And it was His sinlessness that qualified Him to act as the substitutionary sacrifice for mankind and to satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. In His incarnation, Jesus became Emmanuel, “God with us.” He dwelt among us, modeling for us the very life that God expected us to live. And His death on the cross provided a way for us to be made right with God. All that was required was our admission of our own sin and acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf. And when anyone accepts Jesus as their sin substitute and Savior, they receive the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God comes to dwell within them. Which is Paul's point in the passage for today. God makes our bodies His temple by sending His Spirit to live within us. He sets us apart and designates our bodies as His dwelling place. From that point forward, we no longer belong to ourselves. We become His.

With that incredible fact in mind, Paul asks the Corinthian believers, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 ESV). Then he answers his own question: “Never!” Obviously, these new believers living in the city of Corinth were struggling with sexual sin. Paul spends a great deal of time dealing with this problem. Theirs was a sexually charged society. Promiscuity and prostitution were not only prevalent, but practiced by just about everyone in their culture. So Paul has to tell them that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13 ESV). They were having to learn that their new relationship with Christ was intended to change everything about them, including their habits. Their bodies were no longer their own, to do with as they saw fit. They now belonged to God. In fact, they were each to view their bodies as the temple of God, housing His Holy Spirit. So they were to flee from sexual immorality. They were to glorify God in their bodies. Why? Because they no longer belonged to themselves. God had paid a high price for their lives. He had sacrificed the life of His own sinless Son in order that they might become His sons and daughters. Peter reminds us of the high price that God paid, and encourages us to live accordingly. “…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-18 ESV).

Paul would have us remember that God had a purpose for setting us apart as His own and placing His Spirit within us. “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). He goes on and says, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 NLT). God's will for us? Holiness. God's calling for us? Holiness. God's view of us? A holy habitat for His Spirit. 

The Mind of Christ.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV

Those who have placed their faith in Christ, accepting Him as their Savior from sin, have been given the Holy Spirit. His presence within us gives the capacity to think and act as Jesus did. We can live holy lives. We can discern the will of God and live according to it. We can hear the inner promptings of the Spirit of God and respond to them. But the natural or lost individual cannot. He or she lacks the Holy Spirit in their lives, so they are incapable of discerning spiritual truth. In fact, they come across as little more than foolishness to them. The message of the gospel seems silly and absurd. The idea of the resurrection is far-fetched and borders of fantasy. The concept of eternal punishment for sin is something they have a hard time grasping and accepting. All because they are non-spiritual. They lack the Spirit.

Paul tells us that “the spiritual person judges all things.” The Greek word he uses for “judges” is anakrinō and it means “to discern, evaluate, examine.” Those who have the Holy Spirit within them are able to discern or understand what He is doing in and around them. They have a spiritual perspective. The lost or non-spiritual individual does not have that capacity. When they look at a Christ-follower who is living in the power of the Holy Spirit, they cannot discern or understand his actions. They can't comprehend the life of faith. It makes no sense to them. The paraphrase of this verse found in The Message puts it well. “Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics.” In fact, they can and do judge us, but they cannot understand us. They think our actions are illogical. They see faith as a weakness or a crutch. They label Christians as unintelligent and the idea of a Savior for mankind as wishful thinking. They place all their hopes in this life. The physical, tangible world becomes their sole reality.

But we have the mind of Christ. Paul, quoting from Isaiah 40:13, writes, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” It is a rhetorical question and the answer is “no one.” And yet, while we cannot teach God anything and we cannot fully know the mind of God, we have been given the ability to comprehend and know His will. The apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus revealed God to man when He took on human flesh. But men refused to accept Him. They were incapable of recognizing who He was. Now the Holy Spirit reveals God to those in whom His dwells. His presence within us allows us to know God, to discern spiritual truths, and to think and act as Jesus did.

When we live under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we will be misunderstood. Our actions and attitudes will make no sense to those who are unsaved. Our joy in the midst of sorrow will seem strange to them. Our humility will come across as weakness. Our selflessness will appear as little more than lack of initiative. Jesus said that the world would hate us just as it hated Him. In spite of all the good that Jesus did, the world ended up despising Him because they could not understand Him. They were stuck with a natural, earthly perspective. They could not see Jesus for who He really was. In fact, a perfect illustration of this is found in the gospel of John. Jesus had fed thousands of people by miraculously multiplying five loaves of bread and two small fish. The people were blown away by what Jesus did. Because their physical needs were met in such an incredible way, they were ready to make Jesus their king. But John writes, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15 ESV). The next day, these same people came to Jesus expecting to be fed again. But Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:26-27 ESV). Jesus began to teach them about the “bread of life.” He claimed to be the bread that came out of heaven to give life to the world, but they simply wanted physical bread. They wanted their physical appetites fed. But Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 14:35-37 ESV). As hard as it may be for some to accept, Jesus indicates that without the Father's help, it is impossible for men to accept Jesus for who He is. They are blinded by their own sin. The Jews who heard Jesus speak that day only saw Him as the son of Mary and Joseph. They could not understand what He meant when He said He was the bread that came down from heaven. So Jesus explained to them, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). It is the Spirit of God that makes possible our salvation. He must open our eyes and provide us with the capacity to see Jesus as Savior. But He is also the one who makes it possible for us to experience sanctification. He gives us the capacity to live in obedience to God's will, providing us with the mind of Christ and a discernment to understand spiritual things. We have the mind of Christ in the form of the Spirit of Christ. So we can live like Christ.

Those Who Are Spiritual.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 ESV

God is mysterious, transcendent, holy, perfectly righteous and completely invisible to the human eye. He is an non-created spirit being who has no beginning and end. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, unbound by space or time, and inaccessible by man unless He makes Himself known. But that is the amazing thing. He has made Himself known. He has revealed Himself through creation. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). But over the centuries, God has made Himself known in many other ways. He spoke to Abram in Ur. He guided him, directed him, and promised to make of him a great nation. God had personal encounters with Isaac and Jacob. He personally cared and provided for Joseph. He appeared to Moses and used him to release the people of Israel from captivity. God spoke through prophets. He used judges. But His greatest revelation of Himself was through the incarnation of His Son. One of the titles of Jesus was Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Paul tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). John writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV). 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became a man and took on human flesh. He lived among men. He ministered to men. He healed them. He taught them. But the greatest accomplishment of Jesus' earthly life was His sacrificial death on the behalf of men. He died so that we might live. God sacrificed His own sinless sin so that men might be made right with Him. And those who have accepted the sacrifice of His Son's death as payment for their sins received another manifestation of God's presence: His Spirit. The Spirit of God has come to dwell within all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their sin-substitute and Savior. And Paul would have us consider the staggering significance of that reality. “Now we have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). This may sound a bit sacrilegious, but the Holy Spirit within us is like a radio receiver that allows us to pick up the spiritual wave lengths broadcast to us by God. Think of it like having a radio in your can that can receive Sirius radio signals. If you don't have one, you can't hear what is being broadcast. Without the Spirit, we would find it impossible to pick up and make out what God is saying to us. His Word would be impossible to understand. His presence, while all around us, would be oblivious to us. Paul explains why. The Spirit interprets spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. And we are only spiritual because we have the Spirit within us. Our spirituality is not something we have earned or attained. It has been given to us by God, just like our salvation was. We have received the gift of salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And His presence within us makes it possible for us to hear from and understand God. The bottom line, according to Paul, is that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV). But thankfully, we have His Spirit within us. And we CAN understand the thoughts of God. We CAN comprehend His Word. We CAN hear from Him and communicate with Him.

When we read the Scriptures, we are not on our own. We do not have to rely on our intellect alone. We have been given the Holy Spirit to help us hear from God as He speaks to us through His written Word. That is what makes the Scriptures so powerful and potentially life changing. The write of Hebrews describes the Scriptures as “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). The Word of God is alive to us because the Holy Spirit lives within us. He is the one who makes us spiritual beings. Rather than being limited to our physical and mental capacities alone, we have the ability to receive spiritual truths directly from God Himself, all because we have the Spirit of God living within us. And Paul, quoting from Isaiah 64:4, provides us with the incredible nature of that reality. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” We can't even begin to imagine what God has to show us, teach us, reveal to us, and do for us. But because we have the Spirit of God within us, we can experience and understand the unimaginable and unknowable – the things freely given us by God.

The Deep Things of God.

God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV

Paul was a highly intelligent man. He was well-schooled in all things concerning the Law, having studied under Gamaliel, a well-known rabbi and expert in the Law. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus did not diminish his intellectual capacity, but it did alter his perspective. After having come to believe that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of the world, he found that he no longer had to rely solely on human reasoning and his own intellectual prowess. He had another resource on which to rely. There had been a time in his life when his oratory skills and debating talents were of great importance to him. But he reminded the believers in Corinth, “When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan” (1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV). In other words, Paul didn't rely upon his highly-developed and well-honed speaking skills or his personal powers of persuasion. Instead, he said, “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 ESV). In fact, his whole approach while ministering in Corinth was intentionally simplistic and one-dimensional. “For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:3 ESV). Why? He gives us the answer:  “So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5 ESV).

But what Paul shared with the Corinthians was anything but simplistic or sophomoric. He had not checked his intelligence at the door or dumb-downed his message. He shared a brand of wisdom that was not of this world. It was not based on human reasoning and could not be grasped by human intellect alone. Paul, who had been a student of the Scriptures and, as a former Pharisee, an expert in the Law, knew that his years of study had not revealed to him what he now knew about God and His plan of redemption. It had been disclosed to him by the Spirit of God. No, Paul explained, “I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7 NLT). Had the “rulers of this world” – the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman governmental authorities – understood who Jesus was, they would not have crucified Him. But, in spite of all their collective power and wisdom, they were oblivious to the reality of Jesus’ identity and mission.

Paul makes it clear that the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were unknowable by men unless the Spirit of God revealed it to them. “These things” regarding Jesus had been revealed to Paul “through the Spirit.” He hadn't ascertained it on his own. It had not been the result of careful study. His knowledge of the Scriptures had not prepared Him to recognize the Messiah when He came. Even Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39 ESV). In their passionate desire to understand the Scriptures, they failed to see the One who is the fulfillment of those very same Scriptures. Paul's claim was that his knowledge regarding was Christ was the work of the Spirit of God. “For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets” (1 Corinthians 2:10 NLT). It was the Holy Spirit who had revealed to Paul his understanding of and appreciation for the mystery of Christ's coming and God's gift of salvation through His Son. He refers to it as the “secret and hidden wisdom of God.”

Jesus accused the Pharisees of trying to find eternal life through the study of the Scriptures alone. But because of their arrogance and pride, they were looking right past the very focus of those Scriptures. It has been and always will be about God's redemption of man. God is a redeeming God. From beginning to end, the Bible is the story of man's redemption. And it all points to Jesus. In his letter to the believers living in Galatia, Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:4-6 ESV). At just the right time, according to God's perfect, divine plan, He sent His Son. No man could have come up with this plan. And no man is capable of understanding it without help from the Spirit of God. But as Paul says, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts. We have divine assistance. We have been given the ability to understand the deep things of God. Because no one can comprehend the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We are dependent upon Him for all that we know. He is the one who made it possible for us to see and accept Jesus as our Savior. He is the one who makes it possible for us to understand the Scriptures and apply the to our lives. He makes it possible for us to grow spiritually and increase in the knowledge of God. We have within us a divine enabler who makes the deep things, the mysterious, unknowable things of God knowable.

The Essential Spirituals.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul provides us with some indispensable teaching regarding the Holy Spirit and His role in distributing spiritual gifts to the people of God. This is a hot-button topic in the church over the years, and has often been a much-debated one. But it is interesting to note that when Paul refers to spiritual gifts in verse one of this chapter, he uses the Greek word, pneumatikos. Typically, this word gets translated as “spiritual gifts”, but it literally means “spirituals”. It is a rather difficult Greek word that doesn't translate well into English. It is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 1:11 when he writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.” Obviously, Paul was not able to give anyone a spiritual gift. That is the sole prerogative of the Holy Spirit. The New Living Translation gives what is probably a more precise take on the word Paul is using by translating it as “special abilities the Spirit gives us.” These special “anointings” are given by the Spirit to each and every believer. In The Message, Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Scriptures, he describes these Spirit-given abilities as “the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been given the Spirit of God to live within us. His presence produces within us and through us these “spirituals,” these special manifestations that reveal His power and influence over us. They take the form of “gifts”, which we derive from the Greek word, “charisma.” They are outward, visible expressions of the Holy Spirit who is within us. These “spirituals” come in a variety of forms, Paul tells us. But they all come from the same source: The Spirit of God. They are Spirit-produced and other-focused. They are designed “for the common good” of the body of Christ. As we allow the Holy Spirit to control us, He flows through us, influencing our behavior and impacting all those around us. In his letter to the Ephesian churches, Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV). Everyone knows what someone operating “under the influence” of alcohol looks like. It's not a pretty picture. They say and do things they wouldn't normally do. Their behavior changes. We even say things like, “that's the alcohol talking.” So a person who is operating “under the influence” of the Spirit also has their behavior changed. The Holy Spirit produces “the spirituals” in his or her life.

Paul says, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). The Greek word Paul used is phanerōsis and it means “expression.” It is a visible expression of the invisible Holy Spirit who lives within each and every believer. His presence in our lives is proven as these “spirituals” are shared within the body of Christ. Paul lists a few of these “gifts” or graces given to us by the Spirit. Sometimes we focus all our attention on the particular gifts he lists and neglect to recognize their source or their purpose. They are Spirit-given. They are other-oriented. They are gifts we receive, not talents we acquire. They are for the common good of the body of Christ, not to make us feel good about ourselves. Paul tells us that, whatever the nature of the “spiritual” the Holy Spirit gives a particular believer, they are “all empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each on individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV). In other words, He gives what He gives to whomever He chooses to give it based solely on grace, not merit. It has nothing to do with talent or ability. It doesn't factor in intellect or influence. But the Spirit alone decides what is needed, how that need will be met, and who He will use to meet it.

Rather than worrying about what “gift” you have, why not trust the Spirit to produce “the spirituals” through you as He sees fit. These divine giftings are desperately needed by the body of Christ. But we must remember that they are spiritual and not physical. They are eternal and not temporal. They are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They are manifestations of the Spirit's presence in us and influence over us. Just as alcohol or drugs can take over a person's body and dramatically alter their personality, the Holy Spirit can radically influence the behavior of each and every believer. He can fill us and overflow out of us, for the common good.

Over in his letter to the Romans, Paul gives us some wise counsel concerning our Spirit-given gifts. “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:6-8 NLT). Our Spirit-given gifts do not belong to us. They are for others. And what our gift is matters less than how we use it. When we allow the Spirit to work in us and through us, He will use us to build up the body of Christ. And He will use others to build us up at the same time. The “spirituals” are non-negotiable essentials to a healthy church.

s .

Equal-Opportunity Spirit.

And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. – Acts 10:45-48 ESV

Cornelius was a centurion, a non-commissioned officer in the Roman army, who was in charge of a troop of 100 soldiers. He lived in the city of Caesarea, along the Mediterranean coast. Interestingly enough, he was also “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2 ESV). He gave generously and prayed regularly. But he would have been greatly disliked by the Jews in Caesarea because he was both a Gentile and a Roman soldier. But God had plans for Cornelius and for the spread of the gospel.

Back in the gospel of Matthew, he records an encounter between Jesus and another centurion. It took place in the city of Capernaum. He approached Jesus and shared that he had a servant back at home who was paralyzed and suffering greatly. When Jesus offered to come heal him, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the world, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9 ESV). Jesus marveled at the man's faith and said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness…” (Matthew 8:11-12 ESV). Jesus predicts that others, like this centurion, will come to believe in Him. Gentiles, from east and west, and from outside the household of Israel, would come to believe in Jesus as their Savior. And not long after Jesus ascended back into heaven, Peter experienced the fulfillment of that prediction.

In a dream, Cornelius received a visit from an angel, who told him to send for Peter. Though he was terrorized by this encounter, he did just as the angel commanded him, sending two servants and a soldier to Joppa to find Peter. In the meantime, back in Joppa, Peter was up on the roof of the house where he was staying, preparing to pray. He became hungry, fell into a trance and was given an unexpected vision from God. In his dream, “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat’” (Acts 10:11-13 ESV). Peter was appalled at the very thought and told the Lord, “By no means!” He explained that, as a good Jew, he had never eaten anything unclean or common. He had faithfully observed the Mosaic dietary laws. But the voice said, “What God has made clean, do not all common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). This sequence of events took place three times, then the sheet was taken back up into heaven and Peter awoke from his trance. Before he had an opportunity to figure out what this vision meant, the servants of Cornelius showed up at his doorstep. Peter was told by the Spirit to accompany them “without hesitation.” 

The next day, Peter left for Caesarea, accompanied by some Jewish brothers who had become Christ-followers. When they arrived at the home of Cornelius, they found that he had gathered a crowd made up of his family and close friends. Peter explained to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28 ESV). Peter had gotten the message behind the vision. He understood that the good news of the gospel was to be made available to any and all, regardless of their nationality, occupation, background, economic status or religious heritage. Peter explained his new-found enlightenment, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 ESV). While Peter shared with them the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44 ESV). The believing Jews who had accompanied Peter were shocked at this turn of events because the “gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45 ESV).

Cornelius and his family and friends believed in Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At that moment they were included into the family of God, the household of faith. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter and the Gentile who had gathered in the home of Cornelius became one at that moment. They shared a common belief in Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The gospel is for all. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to all who believe in Jesus Christ. There is no favoritism with God. There are no classes or divisions. Paul put it this way: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV).

Bound by the Spirit.

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:22-24 ESV

One of the primary functions of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is that of direction and guidance. He is to provide insight into how we are to live our lives in accordance with God's will. But His direction is useless if we choose to avoid it or ignore it. Each day, we face the choice of walking according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. We will obey one or the other. And the truth is, the Holy Spirit will oftentimes direct us to do things that seem difficult or distasteful – even dangerous at times. He may prompt us to act in ways that are contrary to our human nature and that appear to be counter-intuitive. After His baptism by John, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where He went without food for 40 days and was subjected to the attacks of Satan himself. And while that may sound illogical to us, the entire episode of Jesus’ life was part of God's plan for Him. The apostle Paul would remind us, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). The key, he says, is to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

And in this passage from the Book of Acts, we see Paul practicing exactly what he preached. Paul was on one of his missionary journeys and was attempting to return to Jerusalem. On his way, he stopped in Miletus and called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to come see him. When they arrived, he recounted to them his ministry to them, reminding them “how I lived among you … serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19 ESV). And how he refused to “shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable” (Acts 20:20 ESV). Then he shared with them the news that he was on his way to Jerusalem, “constrained by the Spirit”. That is an interesting choice of words by Paul. Some translations use the word “compelled”, while others use the word “bound”. But the Greek word Paul used literally means, “to bind, to fasten with chains”. It was often used in a metaphorical sense to mean “to put under obligation” or “to be bound to one” as in a sense of duty. Paul seems to be saying that he was bound to the will of the Spirit for his life, even though that very same Spirit had not revealed to him what was going to happen to him when he arrived in Jerusalem. All Paul knew was that, the Spirit repeatedly warned him “that in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me”. What Paul was doing was counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. His message was not politically correct and would not prove to be popular among those who lived blindly, yet happily according to their sin natures.

Paul was obligated to do what the Spirit told him to do. He may not have completely understood what the Spirit was saying and he may not have particularly liked what the Spirit was demanding, but Paul “under obligation” to do what the Spirit said. For Paul, obedience to the Spirit was non-negotiable. He would rather die than disobey the Spirit's promptings. Even if obedience to the Spirit's direction brought with it suffering, he was on board. He was okay with that. Paul's focus in life was to do the will of God. Nothing else mattered. Which is why he told the elders from Ephesus, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Paul had a God-given, Christ-conferred, Spirit-empowered mission to accomplish. It was not going to be easy. It was not going to be comfortable or conflict-free. To do what Christ had commissioned him to do, Paul was going to have to suffer rejection, ridicule, and even physical harm. He was going to have to go places where his message and his presence were not welcome. It would have been easy for Paul to stay in those towns where he received a warm welcome. It would have made common sense that he avoid the more dangerous locales, because if he got arrested, his ministry would be dramatically curtailed.

But we know that Paul's determination to obey the Spirit at all costs DID eventually land him in jail. But it is from jail that Paul wrote the majority of his letters that we have contained in the canon of Scripture. Had he not listened to the Spirit's promptings, he would have never had the time to sit down and pen the words that have played such a significant role in the building up of the body of Christ over the centuries. For Paul, life was not worth living unless it was lived in obedience to the Spirit of God. Life lost all meaning if it was lived for anything other than God's will. Paul wanted to be faithful more than he wanted to be comfortable. Paul counted obedience as more profitable than his own convenience. He didn't buy into the philosophy, “it's better to be safe than sorry”. He was duty-bound and obligated to do the will of God as revealed through the leadership of the Spirit – for better or worse.

More Than Conquerors.

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:36-39 ESV

There are those two words again: “These things.” It is as if Paul is presenting us with a juxtaposition that presents all of the “these things” related to our position in Christ and all of the “these things” that are tied to our time of suffering in this world. They appear contradictory and in conflict with one another. On the one hand, we are sons and daughters of God. We are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living within us, empowering us to deny our sin natures and live godly lives. He helps us in our times of weakness, even interpreting our prayers and bringing them into alignment with God's will. We have the assurance of God's unstoppable purpose for our lives and the promise of our future glorification. And yet, while we live on this earth, we suffer just as Jesus did. We face temptation. We have to constantly fight our own sin nature and fend off the attacks of the enemy. But Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35 ESV). Then he goes on to list just a few of the obstacles standing in our way: Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword. These are just a few of the “these things” Paul is referring to in verse 37. And he adds to the list in verses 38-39: Death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, heights, depths, or anything else in creation. The New Testament In Modern English puts those two verses in language we can understand.

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

We are more than conquerors, Paul emphatically states. We are over-comers and, ultimately, victors over anything and everything that stands in our way in this life. Why? Because of Christ's finished work on the cross. He loved us enough to die for us. He loved us so much He rose for us. He loved us even though He left us, because He sent His Spirit to live within us. He loves us enough to intercede for us with His Father. He loves us enough that one day He is returning for us. Jesus told His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3 ESV).

The problem we face is the constant temptation to judge the love of God based on what is happening to us at a particular moment in time. If we find ourselves in a desperate circumstance, we can easily begin to wonder whether God really loves us. We can be tempted to doubt His faithfulness. We may begin to question His power or even debate His presence. But rather than focusing on what is happening, we need to learn to keep our attention on has already happened. God has already sent His Son to die for us. He has redeemed us with the blood of His innocent, sinless Son. He has adopted us as His Son and daughters. He has justified us – removing our sin and replacing it with His Son's righteousness. He has given us His Spirit to live within us, providing us with the same power that raised Jesus from death to life. He has conquered sin and death. He has written our names in the Lamb's Book of Life. In other words, God HAS loved us, all the way to the end. And NOTHING will ever separate us from that love. Nothing can snatch us from His hands. No one can change what God has ALREADY done.

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV). Look at what he says. “He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That is us. All who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ are being perfected for all time. His sanctifying work in our lives is not yet finished, but it will be. The day is coming when we will be like Him. We will see Him. We will be with Him. The purpose of God for our lives will be finalized. We have been saved. We are being sanctified. And we will one day be glorified. We are more than conquerors, we are victors.

There is a wonderful song we tend to sing only at Christmas. It is by Thomas Kinkade and is called Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The closing lines fit perfectly with our verses for today.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, Which the morning stars began; Father love is reigning o'er us, Brother love binds man to man. Ever singing, march we onward, Victors in the midst of strife, Joyful music leads us Sunward In the triumph song of life.


Case Closed.

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? – Romans 8:33-35 ESV

Not guilty! That is the verdict. Let the magnitude of that statement sink in. In these verses, Paul provides us with a stunning reminder of the staggering reality of our status as completely innocent and totally righteous sons and daughters of God. As he stated when he began this chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave them unbelievably good news. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). At one time, we were all guilty before God, condemned and deserving of His just judgment: Death. But how we stand before His presence not only forgiven, but sinless in His eyes. We have been justified. So not only have we had our sins forgiven and removed, we have been given the righteousness of Christ. And as a result, no one can condemn us. No one can bring a charge against us. Our debt has been paid. Our death sentence has been commuted. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). We have received the righteousness of Christ. He took on our sin and we took on His righteousness.

And nothing can change our forgiven, guiltless, uncondemned, fully righteous status. We are completely covered by the unfailing love of Christ. Even at this moment, He intercedes on our behalf. His very presence at the side of God the Father is a constant reminder of the payment that was made and the complete satisfaction of God's justice that was supplied by His death in our place. And Paul would have us consider the fact that nothing can separate us from that love. He rhetorically asks, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” (Romans 8:35 NLT). And the answer is: Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. Even when things appear to be less-than-perfect in our lives or it feels as if God is not there, Paul asks us to consider: “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” And again, the answer is, “No!” Christ died for us, as a payment for our sin. He was resurrected by the Spirit as a confirmation that His sacrifice was acceptable to God. And He ascended to the right hand of God, where He intercedes on our behalf. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). We must always remember that our salvation will not be complete until we experience glorification – our finalized adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies. Until that day, we must not let the troubles and trials of this life tempt us to doubt God's love, Christ's work, or our status as God's children.

Our case has been completely settled. Our sentence of innocence has been pronounced. Our debt has been settled and our future is secure. Nothing can change that. No one can do anything to reverse God's declaration of our guiltlessness. Not even us. There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that sink in. Don't take it for granted. Don't treat it lightly or flippantly. As the old hymn says, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

What Shall We Say?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:31-32 ESV

God's redemptive plan is perfect and complete. Paul reminds us that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). In spite of all of the suffering, heartache, difficulty or pain we may see or experience in this life, God's purpose regarding our salvation and ultimate glorification will be done. He has given us His Spirit as a guarantee and as a constant reminder of His love for us and constant presence with us. He is in the process of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. He is using the presence of His Spirit within us and the constant pressure of difficulties that are always around us, to mature and perfect us. 

So Paul asks us a question. What shall we say to these things? To what “things” is Paul referring? Most likely he is pointing back to all that he has discussed in the verses that have preceded.

•  We have been set free from the law of sin and death •  We now walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh •  We are putting to death the deeds of the flesh with the help of the Spirit •  We are led by the Spirit •  We are adopted sons and daughters of God •  We are children of God and fellow heirs of Christ •  We experience suffering in this life just as Jesus did •  We have our future glorification to look forward to •  We have the Spirit to help is in our current weakness •  We have the Spirit's assistance even when we pray •  We have the assurance that God's plan for us is perfect •  We can know that all things really do work together for our ultimate good •  We can rest in the fact that we will one day be glorified

So how should be our response to all of “these things”? With an awareness that God is for us. That He is on our side and in complete control, regardless of what we may see going on all around us. If God is for us, who can be against us? Even Satan himself can't stand against the purposes of God for our lives. He can't thwart the plan of God. Jesus made that point clear when He said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Satan will attempt to steal our joy, kill our faith and destroy our hope in God. He will bombard us with reasons to doubt. Just as he did with Eve in the garden, Satan will whisper in our ear, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). But Paul started out this great chapter with the reassuring words, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). Satan can attack us. He can accuse us. He can attempt to demoralize us and distract us from our God-given purpose. He can try to derail God's plan for us. But if God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul gives us undeniable proof of God's unwavering love for and commitment to us. He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us. Earlier, in chapter five, Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV). “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). If God was willing to give His own Son as the sacrifice for our sins, “will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV). God WILL conform us to the image of His Son. God WILL supply all our needs. God WILL answer our prayers. God WILL work all things together for our good. God WILL one day redeem our bodies. God WILL one day give us our full inheritance as His sons and daughters. God WILL one day complete His purposes for us by glorifying and perfecting us. So what should be our response to these things? Gratitude. Obedience. Praise. Joy. Peace. Hope. Trust. Contentment. Faith. Boldness. Fearlessness. If God is for us, there is no one or nothing that can stand against us. I am reminded of the words from an the old hymn, Leaning On The Everlasting Arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, Leaning on the everlasting arms; Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Called According To His Purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

All things work together for good. That's a promise given to us by Paul, but provided through him by the very Spirit of God. So we have God's word of assurance that our circumstances will always, ultimately, work according to His divine plan for our lives. Paul writes, “all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). You see, God has a purpose, a plan, and a program that He is bringing about. This is not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along affair. It may feel that way at times. We may wonder if God has a plan in place or whether that plan has somehow left us out. But God would have us remember that He is in control – at all times. The message of these two verses is plain. God did not look down the corridors of time and somehow see who it was who would accept His Son as their Savior. This isn't a case of God's foreknowledge of what we would do, but of what He would do for us. He predetermined or pre-ordained our salvation through His Son long before any of us were even born. Even before the universe had been spoken into existence. And the divine purpose of God was not just for our salvation, but our transformation. His plan was and is complete. It has a beginning and an end. He foreknew us. He predestined us. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. All of these words are in the past tense. They are as good as done. His plan is complete, even though His work is not yet done. As Paul has made clear, we do not yet have glorified, redeemed bodies. We still battle with our fallen flesh and our old sin nature. We endure suffering of all kinds in this life. But our ultimate outcome has been predetermined by God. We are being conformed to the image of His Son. “For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). We have been justified, made right with God. While at one time we were sinners, condemned and destined to an eternity separated from God, we have been declared innocent, sinless and righteous by God. We stand before Him completely forgiven and entirely covered by the righteousness of Christ. And our future, glorified bodies are as good as ours – right here, right now. That is part of God's plan and God's plan for us is unstoppable and unchangeable.

This whole process of our salvation is the work of God. He is the one who foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This was His plan, from beginning to end. And because it is His plan and not ours, it is without error and totally independent of our effort or input. That is why ALL THINGS work together for our good. His plan cannot be stopped, altered or ignored. He WILL conform us to the image of His Son. He will do for us all that He predetermined to do. He has an end in mind and He will not stop until His plan is completely fulfilled. That is why we must learn to look past our circumstances and focus our attention on the future promises of God. Paul tells us, “So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).

We must never forget that we have been called according to His purpose, not ours. He is out to accomplish His will for us, not ours. While we may suffer from tunnel-sightedness at times, we must constantly remind ourselves to see our circumstances through the lens of God's full redemptive plan. He IS conforming us, whether we see it or not. He IS glorifying us, whether we feel like it or not. “And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). From “one degree of glory to another” as the English Standard Version translates it. God didn't simply save us and leave us to somehow make it on our own. He didn't redeem us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. His plan included sending His Son to die for our sins, as well as providing His Spirit to comfort, guide and empower us while we live out our days on this planet. Then one day He is going to send His Son again. He will complete the work His Father gave Him and finalize the plan of God. God promised it and we can count on it. 

And We Know…

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 ESV

This is one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible; but, sadly, it is too often one of the most misquoted and misused verses in the Bible. It seems to be the one verse we all bring up when we encounter someone who is struggling or suffering. We reach into our Bible Band-aid Box and pull out what we hope will be something to soothe the pain of our brother or sister in Christ. The problem is that this verse can end up sounding hollow and empty when quoted to someone who is knee-deep in difficulty. What it says may be true, but that doesn't mean that it will bring comfort to the individual who is smack-dab in the middle of a difficult situation. While we may mean well when we throw around this verse like some kind of secret elixir or cure-all, we can actually end up aggravating rather than alleviating someone's pain and suffering. Our efforts can do more harm than good.

Part of the problem is that we lift this verse out of its context. Paul has been talking about “the sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18 ESV). He describes us as groaning inwardly “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:24 ESV). He tells us we are weak and do not know what or how to pray. But he says, “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 ESV). We are surrounded by suffering. We have to constantly battle our own sin nature and “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13 ESV). We have to remind ourselves daily that we are children of God and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16). And our very existence as sons and daughters of God puts us at odds with this world and with Satan, the prince of this world. And while “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV), they are still real and difficult to handle at times.

But as we suffer and pray, struggling with uncertainty and seeking to understand God's will in all that is going on around us, Paul tells us “we know…” We know what? That “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). This does not mean that everything works out perfectly. It does not mean that God removes all our pain, heals all our diseases, or eliminates all our suffering. It means that our pain, sickness and suffering have a divine purpose behind them, because God is in control. He is sovereign. This is not to say that He is the cause behind our pain, sickness and suffering, but that God is not thwarted by or somehow limited by them when it comes to accomplishing His good in our lives.

The phrase “all things work together” is all-encompassing. It means ALL things – the good, the bad and the ugly. We may not understand how good can come out of the bad experiences of life, but the Holy Spirit is there to remind us that God is sovereignly at work in our lives, using each and every moment of life to accomplish His divine will. There is a story in the Old Testament that speaks of this very truth. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. They hated him and were jealous of him, so they pawned him off on some slave traders then told Joseph's father that his son was dead. Joseph ended up as a slave in Egypt. His life is one of constant ups and downs. There are incredible highs followed by unbelievable lows. At one point he gets falsely accused and imprisoned. But the next thing he knows, he finds himself occupying the second-highest position in the land, subject only to Pharaoh himself. And when his brothers arrive in town and discover that their long-lost brother is not only alive, but in a position to punish them for all they did to him, they panic. But Joseph tells them, “now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5 ESV). He surprises them by saying, “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8 ESV). And then he drops the bombshell, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 ESV).

God had worked “all things” together for good – not only for Joseph, but for the people of God. He took all the bad things that happened in Joseph's life and used them to accomplish His divine will. God didn't just turn Joseph's apparent bad luck into good luck. He orchestrated the whole affair, having sent Joseph ahead of time into Egypt in order to preserve life. And everything that happened from the moment Joseph arrived in Egypt was part of God's plan. But sometimes we don't see His plan until we have the opportunity to look back in retrospect. It's then that we perceive the sovereign hand of God in our lives.

You see, God had a bigger plan in store for Joseph and for the people of Israel. And He has a bigger plan in mind than just our own comfort and personal convenience. God is pushing all things toward the ultimate fulfillment of His divine plan for mankind. Yes, we must suffer for this present time. But there is a time coming when all our suffering will make sense to us. Yes, we have to live in these bodies of flesh, but there is a day coming when we will receive new bodies. Yes, we have a lot to cry about right now, but we have been promised an eternity with no more tears, sorrow or pain. Yes, we have to daily struggle against our sin nature, but there is a time coming when sin will be no more. All things will work together for good. If not in this life, in the one to come. There is a reason for our suffering. There is a purpose behind our pain. And if nothing else, it should drive us to Him for comfort and teach us to trust Him for a good and godly outcome.

Our Prayer Partner.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27 ESV

In the preceding verses, Paul encourages us to wait eagerly, hopefully, and yet patiently for the final stage of our adoption as sons and daughters of God and for the redemption of our bodies. There is a day coming when we will freed from these bodies of death as Paul called them (Romans 7:24). We will be given new bodies and the long-awaited opportunity to live in perfect, unbroken fellowship with God, fully enjoying our position as His children and all the benefits that come with being His heirs. But in the meantime, we must continue to live in a fallen world, dealing with the ongoing presence of our sin natures and struggling against the persistent attacks of Satan. Back in verse 17, Paul told us “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our glorification is coming, but in the meantime we sometimes find ourselves suffering as a result of our faith in Christ and our relationship with Him. And as we suffer as God's children, we naturally call out to Him as our Father. We find ourselves too weak at times to handle all that is happening to us and around us in this world. We are constantly experiencing and witnessing the effects of sin. And so, in our weakness, we cry out for help. But there are times when we don't even know what to pray. We aren't even sure what to ask God for. And when we do ask, we sometimes never see the answer to our request.

In our present circumstances, our needs are constant, but Paul assures us that so is the help of the Holy Spirit. He helps us in our weakness. As we patiently, eagerly, hopefully wait for our final adoption and redemption, He comes alongside and assists us during this time of suffering. Paul says we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ESV). That word, “groan”, means to sigh or pray inaudibly. As we attempt to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy world, we find ourselves struggling with our own sin and the constant emotional bombardment from witnessing sin's damaging influence over the world. So we pray. We call out. And when we do, we find ourselves asking God to remove the cause of our struggles. We beg Him to remove sickness from our loved ones. We ask Him to provide us with resources when our bank account is low or our pantry is bare. We plead with Him to remove our pain and restore our strength when we are weak. And when He doesn't seem to answer those prayers, we become defeated, confused and, at times, even bitter and disillusioned. But Paul would have us consider that the Holy Spirit helps us in our times of weakness. When we don't know what to pray, how to pray, or how to get what we pray for, He intercedes on our behalf. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The truth is, we don't know what we need. Paul says, we don't know what to pray for. We are like little children who ask for the obvious. Driven by our fallen human nature, we tend to ask for what we want, not necessarily what we need. If we have pain, we want it removed. If we experience sickness, we can think of nothing better than having it healed. Paul provided us with a personal testimony regarding this very thing. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV). Whatever the “thorn” in Paul's flesh might have been, Paul prayed that it be removed. But God had other plans and a higher purpose. He was protecting Paul from conceited, proud and arrogant over his position as God's spokesman. Paul pleaded for the removal of the thorn, but the Holy Spirit interceded and turned those self-centered, comfort-oriented requests into prayers that matched the will of God.

We are children of God, but like all children, we rarely know what we truly need. The Spirit does, because He knows the heart and mind of God. If you ask a small child what he or she wants for dinner, they are likely to respond, “Ice cream!” That is what they want, but that is not what they need. And a loving parent would not give in to their request. Instead, they would provide them with what they truly needed, even though the child may feel like their “needs” are not being met. The difference between our prayers and those that the Spirit prays on our behalf are that He “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I don't always know the will of God. I don't always know what is best for me. But the Spirit does. And He is constantly taking my sighs, moans, and silent prayers, and turning them into requests that align with God's will for my life as His child. So when His answers come, I may not always recognize them, but I can trust that they are just what I needed. I have a prayer partner who intercedes on my behalf. He knows the desires of my heart, the will of God, and how the two can become one. Like any loving Father, God is not interested in giving us all that we want, but He is determined to provide us with all that we need for life and godliness. And His Spirit helps us pray within His will so that we can always know that we are receiving the right answer at just the right time.

Hopefully, Eagerly Waiting.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25 ESV

While we live in this world, we find ourselves praying for the healing of those who are sick, the restoration of marriages that are broken, and the salvation of those who are lost. We long for peace in the world, an absence of pain, the presence of joy, and the removal of all sorrow. But we must understand that while we might get a glimpse of some of these things in this life, they are reserved for the life to come. Paul says, “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” He is insinuating that we lack sonship in this life, but that the final stage of our adoption will take place when we receive the inheritance that has been reserved for us.

Like the prodigal son, many of us demand our full inheritance in this life. We want it all now. And while Jesus did promise us abundant life, life to the full, He did not say that we would receive the full measure of our promised resurrection life right here, right now. In these verses, Paul describes us as having the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” He is NOT saying that we are firstfruits of the Spirit, but that we have received the firstfruits of the Spirit. He provides us with a foretaste of future glory. The Holy Spirit within us gives us glimpse of what our glorification will be like. Paul is not telling us we have only a part of the Holy Spirit. But as he told the believers in Corinth, the Holy Spirit is a kind of down-payment or earnest money, the first installment on all that is to come. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV).

Paul mentions two aspects of our future glorification that should grab our attention. The first is the completion of our adoption by God as His sons and daughters. In an adoption, the paperwork can be completed, the financial transactions finalized and the child official status as an adopted son established, but the process is not really complete until the child and the parent are together. So it will be with us. Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV). We have been adopted, but we are not yet with our heavenly Father. We have yet to receive our full inheritance as sons and daughters. And that brings us to the second aspect of Paul's emphasis: “the redemption of our bodies.” We are still living in these bodies of flesh, what Paul elsewhere described as “tents”. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). He goes on to say, “we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT).

Our finalized adoption and the redemption of our bodies. We should long for that day – eagerly and hopefully. In fact, Paul tells us “For in this hope we were saved.” That is the true purpose for our salvation in Christ. Not our best life now, but His perfect life later. In these bodies we groan. In this life we face trials and troubles. “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing” (2 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). We should long for our adoption and the redemption of our bodies. And while we most certainly enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the day is coming when God will make His dwelling among us. We will be with Him and He will be with us. I love the words of the Apostle John in his first letter. “Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). “Now we see things imperfectly,” Paul writes, “like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT).

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us gives us a glimpse of our future glory and should provide us with an incentive to live lives of holiness now. He is a constant reminder of what is to come. He is our comforter. But the day is coming when we will no longer need to be comforted. There will be no more tears, sorrow, pain, disease, suffering, sin or death. We will have new, resurrected bodies. We have unbroken fellowship with God, our Father. We will enjoy fellowship with Jesus in an atmosphere of perfect righteousness and justice. Can I explain it? Can I fully comprehend it? No. But I can hopefully, eagerly hope for it. “So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).

Suffering and Glory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. – Romans 8:18-22 ESV

Suffering and glory. You can't have one without the other. Jesus Himself had to suffer and die before He could experience the miracle of the resurrection and His restoration to His rightful place at His Father's side in heaven. Just hours before His death, Jesus told the disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23 ESV). His choice of words is interesting, because what He said next made it clear that He was talking about both His death.Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV). Jesus’ suffering would result in not only His ultimate glorification, but the salvation of many who would place their faith in Him.

Our future glorification is what makes it possible for us to endure any suffering we encounter in this life. And we see suffering all around us. Even the creation itself suffers as a result of sin. “For the creation was subjected to futility…” The Greek word Paul uses to describe the condition of the created world is mataiotēs and it refers to a state of meaninglessness, lack of purpose, and dissatisfaction. Even the natural world is plagued with a sense of purposelessness and even perverseness. It is not operating as God had intended. And yet, Paul describes creation as “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It longs for something better – not in a literal sense – but through its own seemingly self-destructive existence. It has been subjected to futility – by God Himself. Think about it. Earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts, floods – even the cycles of the seasons speak of the relentless futility of this present existence. The constant cycle of birth, life and death seen in the creative order speaks of the purposeless of life apart from God. But Paul tells us there is hope. There is a glorification to some. Even the creation itself will one day be recreated by God. It will be restored to its original glorified, pre-sin state. Paul would have us remember that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 ESV).

Peter speaks of the day when this will all take place. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10 ESV). And what should our response be to this news? Peter tells us. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13 ESV). We are to live lives of holiness and godliness as we wait, with our eyes fixed on what is to come.

The apostle, John, was given the privilege of seeing this future event and he included the vision of what he saw in his Book of the Revelation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2 ESV). And John gives us the reason behind this remaking of the creation. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). God will remove all sin and any residual influences of its existence. For Him to dwell with man, all sin must be removed. The fallen creation must be remade. And when God recreates creation, He will make His dwelling place among man, just as it was in the beginning. Not only that, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

We are to live with our hope set on the glorification to come – our own glorification and the glorification of God's creation. At the present time, we live surrounded by daily reminders of the futility and meaningless of life apart from God. Even the creative order reminds us that there is something wrong with the world in which we live. We witness sickness, disease, acts of inhumanity and violence. We watch as those we love suffer and die. We each experience the effects of aging. We cry, we mourn, and suffer both physical and emotional pain. But there is hope. There is a glory to come. God is not done. This is not all there is. Like Paul, we must learn to say and believe that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”