Tuesday, April 08, 2008

“New Life”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:17-45[1]

It seems that everyone is interested in “spirituality” these days. Unfortunately, a very brief survey of the way our culture defines this shows that “spirituality” means everything—from teenage witches to angels and from vampires to psychics. I think people are genuinely confused about what in the world “spirituality” means, if anything! In contrast to this confusion, the Bible speaks in a surprisingly concrete way about what “spirit” means. The gospel that the Scriptures proclaim is that God is in the process of transforming everything and everyone—in a very tangible way.[2] We have a preview of the Kingdom of God in the life and love and joy and hope we have right now.[3] And this happens in our lives through the work of God’s Spirit.

All that God promises us in the way of new life comes about in our lives through the presence and power of the Spirit of God. But it is not some kind of vague or intangible thing. It is a very solid, specific, clear-cut, well-defined, observable change of life. It is through the Spirit of God that we experience the wonders of salvation, and that is something hard to wrap your thoughts around. But the effects of the Spirit in human life are not. Like the resurrection of Jesus, the work of God’s Spirit in our lives is a preview of God’s promise to one day make all things new.[4]

I like the way Gene Peterson puts it in The Message:

It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's! (Romans 8:11, The Message)[5]

Everything that characterizes the gift of salvation—new life, love, hope, joy, freedom from everything that binds us, reconciliation—is the work of the Spirit of God. And it is nothing short of new life.

I think the Apostle Paul knew something of this new life from the Spirit of God. He himself was a personal witness to the new life of the crucified Messiah who was raised again. But he was also a personal witness to the new life created in the lives of people like you and me by the Spirit of God. Paul had seen new life springing up over and over again in the lives of the people he served.

As my favorite theologian puts it, “The Spirit of God makes the impossible possible; he creates faith where there is nothing left to believe in; he creates love where there is nothing lovable; he creates hope where there is nothing to hope for. … He makes enslaved creation live and fills everything with the powers of the new creation.”[6] I think what he’s saying is that when the Spirit of God works in our lives, we too become personal witnesses to new life—in every sphere of life.[7]

For most of us these days, talk of the “Spirit” or talk of “spirituality” is perhaps even more difficult than talking about God. Many of us can conceive of a God who created all things. It’s a lot harder to conceive of a “Spirit” who changes our lives. But the good news of the Gospel is that, whether we can understand the Spirit of God or not, as we walk the path of Christian discipleship, God’s spirit has a noticeable effect on our lives. Jesus said it was like the wind. You don’t see the wind, but you can see what it does (John 3:8). In the same way, you can see what the Spirit of God does—bringing new life to us and those around us.

What this means is that where the hope of the kingdom of God is present, there is the presence of the Spirit granting new life. Where the fellowship of love and the sacrificial service is found, there is the presence of the Spirit bring­ing redemption. Where there is reconciliation, there is the presence of the Spirit renewing relationships. Where Christ’s liberating power is found among believers, there is the presence of the Spirit bestowing salvation. Where the people of Christ display obedience to God that comes from the heart, there is the presence of the Spirit making all things new. Where God is worshipped in spirit and in truth, there is the presence of the Spirit calling us to our true home.

We’re only scratching the surface of what it means to experience the Spirit of God bringing us new life. What that means in the specifics of your life is something only you can discover as you walk the path of Christian discipleship. And what a surprising and wonderfully unpredictable adventure the Spirit of God gives us as we walk that path!

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/9/2008 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256.

[3] Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 220, 254; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope, 87.

[4] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 98-99, 294-95.

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 204-5; Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 296; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:15; J. L. Mays, Psalms, 336-37.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 191; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 35, 57, 82, 84, 95, 177, 212.

[7] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 295, 299, 316, 332, 334, 340; cf. Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 143.

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