Afflicted, but victorious

2 Corinthians 4:8-9  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

We face all sorts of opposition in this life, both before and after our conversion and rebirth in Christ.  As we journey down the road of discipleship we’ll meet lots of challenges along the way, but they can be used to build us up instead of destroying us.  With God on our side, we will be victorious.

As followers of Jesus, we don’t operate in our own strength, we have the Creator by our side.  His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)  His power shows through when we have none.  When we embrace our weakness and rest in Him, His power shows in us. When we’re weak, then we’re strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

It’s for the sake of Christ that we endure all this life has to throw at us.  It’s so His power can be made known, so His strength can be evident in our lives.  We’re given over to death in this body so that His life can be made real in us for all to see.  It’s for His glory that we face trials, and just as we die like Christ we’ll be resurrected and glorified. He was victorious over death, so now we can be too.

We have power in Christ

John 1:12 But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.

One problem we face in the Church today is that many Christians don’t really believe that God can do what He says He can do. We believe what we read in the Bible, but in practice, we don’t trust God to come through on His promises. This fear that God won’t fulfill his promises is a lack of faith in the power of God. On one hand, we believe that God can do all things, and on the other hand when we see situations that look impossible to conquer, we don’t believe He can handle all things.

Beyond that, we don’t believe that we have any power or authority. The Bible says that to all who received Christ, He gave power to become children of God. If Christ gave us power, then we can do all things. Paul said to the Philippians that we could do all things through Christ who gives us strength. If we are truly children of God, then we are not impotent, but very powerful. We have the Creator of all things working through us.

Don’t be afraid to act when God calls you to do something. He won’t ask you to do something that He hasn’t given you the power to do. If you are called to do it, the Lord will equip you for it. He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.

Who is the Holy Spirit? A relational being

“Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?” Isaiah 40:13

Understanding the Holy Spirit completely may not be possible, but we’re going to get to know Him a bit more and since the Bible does say a lot about Him, there’s quite a bit we can find out. 

The first thing to establish is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” He is not a power to be harnessed or an impersonal force. He is a relational being. The Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity, One God who eternally exists as three distinct persons – father, son, holy spirit – who are each fully and equally God and in eternal relation with each other. Persons does not mean human beings. Only Jesus became human. Person means that each member of the trinity thinks, acts, feels, speaks, and relates because they are persons and not impersonal forces.

We are all susceptible to falling into the trap of trying to harness the power of some force that we refer to as the Holy Spirit rather than being in relationship with him as God. Without a good understanding of who He is, we will ignore the Spirit while trying to relate to the Father and the Son. That’s like trying to be in a relationship with some of the people who live in your home while ignoring others. No one thrives in that scenario.

 The Holy Spirit is not some feeling that we get on Sunday morning, or a ghost, or something that makes us shake and shiver. He is a personal, relational being with whom we can communicate, find comfort, and abide.

Jars of clay

2 Corinthians 4:7  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We’re here and then we’re gone.  So short are these lives we live on earth, but we seem to think we’ve got forever.  We think that we can solve all of the world’s problems, if only given enough time.  But none of us has that kind of time.  It was designed that way.  We’re here, and then we’re gone.

We weren’t made to live in these bodies forever, they’re our temporary homes.  We give witness to the death of Christ through the death of our own bodies, but our spirits live on and bear witness to His resurrection with our own resurrection.  We depart these jars of clay and trade them in for the real vessels our souls belong in.

To some, death is a terrifying, sad thought.  But to those of us who belong to Christ, it’s only the beginning.  Our knowledge, our strength, our capacity to love, all of these things are limited here on earth, in these bodies.  What God has in store far surpasses anything we know here.  This is just a warm up for the main event!

Work hard

Colossians 3:23 Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.

Philippians 2:14 Do all things without grunting or questioning.

One way we can stand out as disciples of Christ in the world we live in is to serve with joy. It’s not a good witness to the Lord for the Christian in the workplace (you may be the only one) to be the whiner or complainer. We shouldn’t be the one who everyone sees as negative.  We’ve received a joy that comes from the Lord and we ought to let it show.

When we’re capable of finding joy in the mundane or good in the seemingly bad, people wonder how that’s possible. This gives us a great opportunity to point them to Jesus, our source of peace. If we work hard at all tasks given to us, we bring glory to God. He has not put us on this earth to be lazy or to complain.

Work hard, don’t complain, serve others. Be a joy to others so that they will want to know your Master.

The light of the gospel

2 Corinthians 4:6  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

How does God reveal Himself to us?  Many have asked this question and many will continue long after we’re gone from this earth, but the answer has been given.  God revealed Himself in the form of Jesus, who walked the earth among men, facing our temptations and yet never giving in to them, living a perfect life in perfect harmony with the Father.  In Christ, the character of God was revealed and lived out.  And in God’s Word, Jesus is revealed to us who never got to walk in His presence on earth.

But to some the gospel is nonsense, they can’t make anything of it.  They’ve been blinded to the power of the gospel as though they’re in darkness.  But to those of us whom God has called, to those of us who have responded, He has shone a light. He has illuminated Jesus in the gospel to show us the glory of God, and He’s done it in our own hearts.

Apart from God working in us, we can’t understand His revelation, we can’t see Jesus for who He is.  But when God gives the light, we can see everything for what it is. His truth is made real, His character is made clear.  Then and only then can we begin to know Him.

Prepare to Meet the Lord

John 1:23 (ESV) He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John the Baptist was well known for baptizing people in water when they confessed their sins and repented. Known to us as the forerunner to the coming Messiah, he was speculated to be many things while he lived on this earth. The thing about John is that he understood his role and never tried to be anything but what God called him to be. He was not the Messiah and he did not try to be even though some thought he was.

The purpose of John’s baptism, as he understood it and as we understood it today, was to prepare the hearts of those to whom he preached. You cannot truly be ready to meet the Lord until you’ve admitted that you need Him. Repentance means admitting that you’re a sinner and therefore that you need God to save you, because the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). John spoke of making straight the way of the Lord, and part of that is preparing the hearts of the people to receive the coming Christ.

Water baptism is symbolic of our death to sin and new life in Christ. John prepared people to meet the Savior before they even knew who He was. This was all ordained by God and worked perfectly into His plan of salvation. Today, we still need to come to Christ, first admitting that we are guilty of sin and incapable of saving ourselves. Only He can save us.

From one degree of glory to another

2 Corinthians 3:18  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.

You are not who you once were.  You’re not who you were before Christ, but you’re also not who you were right at the moment He entered your life.  You’re being transformed by God to be more like Him.  He’s revealing more of Himself to you and as He does that, you gain more of His character.  To know Him is to behold Him.

Change doesn’t happen overnight.  No, each and every thing that God needs to work on in your life to give you the image of Christ is done one bit at a time.  One event at a time.  One circumstance at a time.  One tragedy at a time. One triumph.  One stint of suffering.  All of it, everything that happens in your life is part of the process.  It may not seem so now, but over time it will make more sense.  Look back at where you were and where you are now.  Think of all the things you’ve been through that have shaped you into what you’ve become.  And the process is only just beginning.

The journey of sanctification is ongoing and doesn’t stop until we’re just like Christ.  It won’t end in this lifetime, but it will have an impact here.  As the Holy Spirit works in you, it affects your character and the fruit you bear as a Christ follower.  You walk more closely with God, understanding more as He reveals more of Himself.  God is glorified in you and through you.

 

Pray for Others

John 17:23  I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.


Intercessory prayer can be one of the most important acts in the life of a Christ follower.  Praying for others is a selfless act of service and one of the greatest things one can do for another person. Even Jesus Himself prayed for others while living here on this earth. Destined to die for the sins of mankind, the Son of God paused in His last few hours on earth and prayed for us.

In John chapter 17, Jesus first prays for His disciples. He asks His Father that the disciples would be sanctified and protected. After this, He prays for all believers who are yet to come. He prayed for our unity, that we would be one. And then, just a short time later, He willingly gave His life on the cross so that we could live. Jesus did not pray that prayer in vain any more than He died in vain. It’s His heart’s desire that we would be united.

Part of that unity includes praying for each other and strengthening each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). When we take on each others’ burdens, we act in a Christ-like manner, loving our neighbors even as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). When we put aside praying for our own desires and needs and pray for those of our family, friends, and even enemies (Matthew 5:44), we truly live out our faith in practice.  Take time each day to pray for others.

The Spirit gives freedom

2 Corinthians 3:17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

The law brings bondage.  Rule-keeping is grueling and not productive.  Real freedom doesn’t come from doing what the law says, but from God.  He has set us free by His grace and forgiveness.

We can search around for peace and joy and happiness, but we’ll only find them in Christ because only His completed work on the cross can bring us the forgiveness we so desperately need.  The Holy Spirit works in us to bring about contentment and joy and they’re only accessible because Jesus chose to come to the earth and take on our sin and put His righteousness onto us.  This is why we are free, we have the righteousness of Christ.  God looks down on us and sees His sons and daughters and not the sinners that we are because we’re clothed in Christ.  Freedom is experiencing God’s love in Christ.  The Holy Spirit enables us to experience it.

Equipping believers to follow Christ and make Him known