Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Changed from glory to glory" (Part IV): The Spirit that gives life

This is the longest entry, so far, in my exposition regarding Sanctification, but I pray that God will give you patience to read through this post entirely and digest them by heart.

In the previous entry we have proven that God's law doesn't have any intrinsic power to sanctify us. Left in ourselves the law is but "the letter that kills" - which only aggravates the sinful passions of our flesh by its righteous admonitions (cf. Rom. 7:7-14). God's intention in handing out His law is to show man his sinfulness; to terrify him, in order that he may abandon self-dependency and rely on God's grace alone for healing, redemption, and sanctification.

Our sinful nature indeed avails for nothing except to sin. It cannot and will not bring forth any spiritual good that God's requires of men according to His law. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (Jn. 3:6a). "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8). In order that we may fulfill God's law, a special divine influence powerful enough to overcome the rebellion of our flesh is needed. This divine influence, as you know it, is the Spirit of God indwelling everyone who are in Christ. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (Jn. 6:63). "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Eze. 36:27). How the Holy Spirit works in our lives in making us more like Christ will be the central topic of this paper.

IV. The Spirit that gives life

"And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my 
statutes and be careful to obey my rules." (Eze. 36:27)
In order for anyone to be able to fulfill God's law, he must first and foremost be freed from the power of Sin (Rom. 6:20). Those who are in Christ are already free from the tyranny of Sin, in the sense that its guilt and penalty have already been taken away by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:24-25), and that the course of their moral lifestyle now faces a whole new direction (i.e. from rebellion unto sanctification - Rom. 6:18). However, in a narrower sense, we still do not posses total freedom from Sin in every respect, in so far as we remain imperfect in practice and in deed (1 Jn. 1:8). The reality of this truth is evident in Paul's words: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5; cf. Rom. 8:13). Thus, although "we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:6), we are still to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires" (Eph. 4:22).

Having said all these, we conclude that the liberating power of the Spirit is necessary not only with respect to our conversion, but also to our daily sanctification as Christians (2 Cor. 3:5-6). God's aid should be continually implored by the faithful as long as he lives in his mortal flesh. When the Holy Spirit grants us liberty from any sinful habit that we have, it inevitably leads us to actually overcome that habit and walk according to God's will. This victory is worked out in us by the Spirit in many ways which I have listed below:
1) By illuminating us concerning the truths of God's Word. "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). The primary external means the Spirit uses to sanctify the redeemed is God's Word; i.e. the holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Mere reading or hearing of Scripture will not profit us anything if we don't understand what we read or hear. This is when the illuminating power of the Spirit comes in. Because He dwells in us (Jn. 14:17), the Spirit can lead us into all truth, as Jesus promised: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn. 14:26); and again, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (Jn. 16:13).
 2) By convicting us of Sin. "And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (Jn. 16:8). A Christian may know all the truths concerning God and His will, but unless He is convicted of his own sins and depravity, he will never turn from his old ways and seek God for deliverance and transformation. Man, however, cannot produce this conviction in his own heart (2 Tim. 2:25-26). It is God's gift through His Spirit. 
3) By infusing love in our hearts. In John 14:16-17 & 26, we find a concise description of the sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Note that every time Jesus tells his disciples that love is (or should be) the motivating factor in obeying His commands (v. 15, 21, 23), He immediately mentions the Spirit's internal influence in the life of believers. Jesus is implying that when our hearts begin to love God and take delight in His law, the praise should be ascribed to God Himself, who has "[poured His love] into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5). This infusion of love is also described in the Bible as God writing His law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Therefore, it is God's gift that we truly love Him and hence ardent in obeying His commands (Deut. 30:6, cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Eze. 11:19-20; 36:26-27; 1 Jn. 4:19).
 4) By leading us not into temptation. "It was I who kept you from sinning against me" (Gen 20:6).  If it is in order that we should willfully walk in righteousness that the Spirit infuses love in our hearts, the same Spirit also infuses hate in our hearts towards carnality and Sin so that we may successfully overcome temptation. Jesus taught us to pray that God should lead us not into temptation; that is, that we may not fall into it and Sin (Mat. 6:13).Certainly, if we have in us the natural power to overcome the enticement of evil, Christ wouldn't have taught us to make such supplication. Thus it is God's gift also that we succeed in mortifying our sinful habits, for it is "the Spirit [who] helps us in our weakness" (Rom. 8:26; cf. Php. 2:13). 
5) By making us pray. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom. 8:15). All the gifts mentioned above can be obtained by the Christian with or without requesting them in prayer. Nonetheless, those gifts are basically procured through prayer. In fact, Christian sanctification is a process mobilized by our total dependence on God's grace (manifested in prayer) and the power of the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:17; 2 Thes. 5:23-24). Yet in order that we may not boast of our progress in holiness on account of our being prayerful, the Scripture also reveals that it is God (by His Spirit) who moves us to come to God in prayer. "For what do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, it is itself a mark of divine favor that we desire and begin to pray. This is one of the glorious mysteries of our faith: That God commands what He wills, but He also grants what He commands. That God entreats us to pray, but it is also Him who makes us to pray. "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Php. 2:13). And again,  "...but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom. 8:15b).
6) By interceding for us. "...for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26b-27, ASV). As frail humans, we cannot actually make a prayer worthy of God's attention: "for we know not how to pray as we ought" (v. 26b). The only reason I see why this is the case is that it is impossible for us to pray with a perfectly undivided heart, however adorned with deep flowery words and intense emotions our prayer can be. But there is truth in the saying: "God will provide" (Gen. 22:8), because God has "sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6). It is the Spirit who makes our prayer acceptable by praying it Himself on our behalf "with groanings which cannot be uttered." Now the Bible also teaches elsewhere that Christ makes intercession for "those who draw near to God through him" (Heb. 7:25), but the nature of His intercessory ministry should not be confused with that of the Holy Spirit. In His high priestly office, Jesus Christ intercedes for the saints in the right hand of the Father to entreat His mercy on their behalf, on account of His saving and sanctifying blood shed on the cross so that they might be saved "to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25a; cf. Rom. 8:32-34, 39). The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, intercedes for us within our hearts so our prayer will be worthy of God's attention. 
7) By permitting us to fall for a time. Now it seems strange to say that the Spirit who works our sanctification, also in some occasion permits us to fall. But I would contend that when the Holy Spirit does, it is due to our unfaithfulness and pride. However, since the Holy Spirit is God and infinitely wise, He perfectly knows how to make use of our downfalls to benefit us at the end of the day (Rom. 8:28). St. Augustine wrote: "God in some degree forsakes you, in consequence of which you grow proud, that you may know that you are 'not your own,' but are His, and learn not to be proud" (On Nature and Grace, Ch. 32 [xxviii]). So when the Holy Spirit withholds His influence from us, it is basically due to our prideful heart, yet it is also for the purpose (and notice the irony) of taking away that same pride that is in our hearts. Unless we are driven to despair by the realization of the fact that we can do and are nothing apart from God (Jn. 15:5), we will never appreciate His grace. Sometimes we must learn the hard way. Thus, the Holy Spirit would at times allows us to trip and fall in order to bend our pride (i.e., the mindset of self-sufficiency), to humble us, so that upon realizing our hopelessness apart from God's grace, we may cry out to the Lord in despair as David did: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit!" (Psa. 51:12). Moreover, in allowing us to trip and fall, the Holy Spirit gives the Father an occasion to manifest His fatherly love and deep concern for us by hitting us with His rod of disciple (Heb. 12:5-9), the end result being is our sanctification in holiness (v. 10-14). 
There are many preachers today who hold that the Holy Spirit will not be free to work in our lives if we ourselves are not willing to change. I don't subscribe to such view. Our willingness and desire to change is proof that the liberating power of Holy Spirit is already at work in our lives, as I've shown many times over. Hence, it is not we who give the Holy Spirit freedom to accomplish His will, but Him who frees us and works within us "to will and to act according to His good pleasure" (Php. 2:13). This is not to say, however, that we are thoroughly passive in that we don't exert any willing cooperation with the Spirit's working in our pursuit of holiness. But when we willingly cooperate, we must acknowledge that it is God's Spirit Himself who made us to cooperate, so that we may not glory in ourselves but in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30-31). "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

In my next installment for this exposition, I will answer a serious question (or objection) concerning God's justice in molding us the way He wants us to be according to His goodness and absolute sovereignty.

To God be the glory!

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