Sunday, July 23, 2006

Do you have the Spirit?

I've misunderstood this reading in the past, so I thought I'd tell you about it. Here's the verse: And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. (Romans 8.9).

So now, suppose someone becomes a Christian. She believes in Jesus Christ the son of God, so, as John 3.16 tells us, she will not perish, but will have eternal life. The question is: Does she need anything else? Does she need a second experience of some kind so that she can receive the Spirit? This verse says no; if she doesn't have the Spirit of Christ she doesn't belong to him, so the contrapositive must also be true: If she does belong to Christ, then she must also have the Spirit of Christ.

So where did I go wrong in my interpretation? The above is true as far as it goes, but where I went wrong was in ignoring some other verses (and some other verbs) relating to the Spirit. For example, Ephesians chapter 4 tells us not to quench the Spirit (or "do not put out the Spirit's fire" as the NIV puts it), and in chapter 5 we have a command to "be filled with the Spirit." So apparently it's possible to have the Spirit while putting out his fire, or without being filled with him.

But the verse above really does mean something; what is that?

As you know by now, my favorite trick is to look upward in the text. That is, to look around the text and see the context. "Context is king," as we heard at a conference in 1998.
The speaker was Dr. Egelkraut, a "retired" missionary from Germany. One day, in the morning message, he encouraged us to take naps. That evening, he asked for a show of hands. "Wasn't that good?" he asked. Of course we agreed it was. "Sleep is a good gift of God," he told us. "And if that good gift of God comes to you while I am speaking, then go ahead! Close your eyes and lean your head back. Nobody will know except me, and I will never tell anyone." What a great guy! He knew we had all heard more sermons than we could ever remember, and he had no illusions about the importance of what he was going to say. Whatever else he preached to us about, what I remember the most about him was his humility and his sense of humor.

He told us about the wife of one of his seminary students, who had come to him for some advice. She and her husband had been trying to have a baby, but something wasn't working. Dr. Egelkraut had heard about a clinic in town that specialized in this sort of thing, so he told her about the clinic and thought nothing more of it. Some months later, he was having lunch with some other seminary profs when this young wife came up to him. "Great news!" she said. "I'm pregnant! And it's all thanks to you!" This required some explanation....
Now where was I? Oh, right, the Spirit of Christ. The passage was talking about the promise that God will rescue us from "the body of this death" (7.24-25) and so, because of that rescue, there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ" (8.1) because we have the Spirit in us so that we can live "according to the Spirit" (8.4,8.6) as the NASB puts it. Because if we are controlled by the flesh (the NIV says "sinful nature") it's impossible to please God (8.8) but because we belong to Christ, we have his Spirit and, this verse says, live according to the Spirit (the NIV says "controlled by the Spirit.")

Here are verses 8 and 9:

Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
Romans 8.8-9
It's an assurance, in other words. A word of encouragement. You can live by the Spirit. Take a look at this piece of good news and tell me it's not exciting:
[I]f the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
Romans 8.11
Power is available for you and me to walk with God. We can do it because his Spirit lives in us. Does it mean we'll never stumble? Uh, probably not. But it means we have power to get up and take another step forward. It means no failure is final. It means that we have an eternal home and acceptance with God, that we can have a meaningful life, a life that pleases God, no matter what the current circumstances look like.

And that sounds like good news to me.

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