Matt’s most recent devotion for the website Coping Through Christianity
Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God
What a precious gift salvation is from the Lord! Yet even in this wonderful news there is more. Not only has God saved us and freed us from sin, but He’s adopted us! He didn’t have to do that for His enemies, and yet He did.
But we all run the risk of falling into doubt, don’t we? We doubt His love for us, we doubt the forgiveness we’ve received, we doubt that we’re truly His. And it’s there that we see that the gifts just keep pouring in. He’s done all these things for us and still there’s more.
In those times of doubt we find that we have a Comforter. It’s the Holy Spirit who bears witness to our spirits that we are indeed children of God, adopted by the Father of Lights. Yes, He is our loving Daddy who would spare nothing for our sake. He never wants us to forget that or to lose sight of it. He keeps giving by reminding us through the Holy Spirit that we are His and He is ours. Great news.
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
There are two types of people in this world. There are those who are led by the Holy Spirit and there are those who are lost. There are no other options. When left to our own wisdom to guide ourselves, we get nowhere. Only by the Holy Spirit can we talk in the way God has for us.
To some, this may seem a ridiculous notion, pointing to the achievements of secular mankind who has not consulted God or been Spirit-led in their discoveries throughout the ages. It is an interesting observation, however, those who think that mankind has the potential to know all there is to know, thus disproving the existence of God, are disregarding the fact that God created all there is to discover. The achievements of man are of no eternal consequence.
But those led by the Spirit are children of God, adopted into His family. We have been the recipients of the greatest gift of all time: God himself. There is nothing of greater eternal significance. It doesn’t matter what we accomplish in this temporary life in regards to greatness because true greatness is only found in one place. It is God’s to give.
How often, in our times of trouble, do we pray for a miracle? In our faith and our hope we often just find ourselves kneeling down, laying it all out and wishing for something, for anything that will come, wanting it so badly and for it to be enough to encompass our lives, making it just that much easier.
Why not? After all, even in his sin, even in his fallen state of anger and hate, Saul of Taurus gave witness to a miracle. The ground rumbled, and shook and any questions, any doubt he had was chased away by the booming voice of God as the heavens split and His presence and will was made known to him. He didn’t even pray, he wasn’t working in faith, the persecutor of the early Church he didn’t even realize he was in need of that divine guidance, yet there it was. So why can’t we be blinded by the glory of God to be shown the path? Why can’t His voice come like thunder from the skies to tell us the road we need to go down?
It’s one of those questions, one of those struggles we battle with. We know the verses, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) or “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”, (Philippians 4:13) but sometimes it seems as if the God who tells us to be strong and courageous, reminding us that He will never fail us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) just doesn’t hear. It almost feels as if He is waiting for us to figure it out for ourselves, removed from the situation as we plead with Him, in our faith, for a little more, for a little something, the weight of it all just bearing down on us.
God’s miracles are never far from us though. It’s just a matter of looking for them and seeing them right in front of us. Though He can, He doesn’t necessarily send angels with blazing swords to appear in front of us, nor does He split the skies to appear in His wondrous glory in front of us. Even as we want a dramatic example or an encompassing miracle that shows us the path of His divine design for our lives, it’s not the way it works.
The promise of God isn’t the promise that He will give us what we want. It’s the promise that, in His goodness and His mercy, in His love for us He will give us what we need. (2 Peter 1:3) With that, through the power of His Holy Spirit, His miracles are everywhere around us to behold, made manifest in His hope for us. (Hebrews 2:4) It’s just a matter of understanding what those miracles truly are, letting your heart and your soul, your spirit and your mind open to the fruits of His Spirit, (Galatians 5:22-23) the truest blessings of God’s wondrous plan and love for us.
Coming to our Heavenly Father, laying our burdens at the feet of Christ, means not only trust Him, it means not only having faith in Him, it means opening our eyes to the great and to the small, knowing that they happen all around us if we are truly receptive to the way that they come to us. With that it’s not about the lessons He can teach us or the hope He can give us when He makes things so easy for us that we can’t ignore it, it’s about the way He guides us to a better understanding, a greater understanding that only comes when we open our eyes to a world of greater possibilities through Him. It’s the reminder that, as our blessed Savior reminds us, it takes but a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain, (Matthew 17:20) and the greatest came come from the smallest.
Though He promises us His goodness, His hope and His mercy, telling us that He has plans for us and for our lives, (Jeremiah 29:11) God comes to us on His terms, not on ours. He does so because, better than we know ourselves, He knows us and what is best for us. With that He guides us and leads us according to who we are and who we need to be, we just need to keep our eyes and our hearts open to the signs and the wonders that He has all around us. Perhaps they’re not always easy to see, but they are there. What we need to remember is that coming to God in faith, coming to Christ in hope, trusting in their blessings, and their guarantees, means we are trusting in the power and the terms of the Divine, and not just our own want or desire for what that should mean.
Let your hearts behold the miracles of the living God, let your lives be encompassed by those blessings great and small. Let go of your own preconceived notions of what they should be or need to be. Once you do, you open yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities where the miracles you once considered small now become greater than anything you ever imagined as they give you the power to do more and be more according to the wonders of God through the grace of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Is your mind set on things of the Spirit? It’s pretty easy in today’s culture so saturated with entertainment and technology to fail to think about the right things. Without even realizing it, we sometimes ignore God’s voice.
We live in a time when there is literally no excuse to ever be bored. If you don’t like what you’re watching on TV, you likely have 500 other channels to choose from. If that isn’t working for you, there are thousands of websites, many that claim to be “social” to keep you occupied. Magazines, smart phone apps and games, online gaming, the list is endless. If we’re not careful we can be consumed by the things of the world.
But as Christians we’re not called to be consumed by this world. We’re called to be set apart from it. In the world but not of it, if you will. The only way to truly be effective for God’s purposes is to set aside the many pleasures this world has to offer for the sake of doing what we’re called to do. That doesn’t mean we never have fun or never set aside time for pure entertainment. It just means we have a different worldview from which we operate. We set our mind on the things of God and when we do that, the other stuff out there pales in comparison.
What is the role of the faithful disciple amidst the political realm?
Of the numerous theological questions that are debated, there are few that seem to be more contentious than this one. Yet it hardly stands as a new issue or one that has only been faced in our present age. It has been one that has plagued the follower of Christ since the birth of his ministry and even before, one that even threatened to draw him in.
The irony of it lies in the inherent danger that comes through the misunderstanding of the faithful and vigilant disciples place amidst this debate. Consider, for example, the life of our blessed Savior himself. Knowing the people had intended to try and crown him an earthly king he would reject the concept himself and withdraw from them. (John 6:15) Yet, when he would stand before Pontius Pilate, he would stand accused of seeking to establish for himself an earthly kingdom with himself as the sovereign over the people. (John 18:33-34)
Though Christ himself did not confuse the two, the confusion that was reaped by others, it offers to us the reason why Christ himself taught to us that we need to “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.” (Matthew 22:15-22)
You see, as with all things, it is a matter of balance. Though the church, and, at the most basic of levels, the faithful disciple need be more concerned with the Spiritual Kingdom and the welfare of the hearts and souls of all people, whereas the state need be concerned with the body and the orderly governance over it, this does not preclude the follower of Christ from participating in the civil offices of government. What it means is that though, as in all things, their character and their leadership should be an example of Christ and His love, (1 Corinthians 4:16) there is no case by which they should impose their spiritual belief on the legal ordinances that administer and preside over the citizenry.
In fact, as exemplified by Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, the three who stood by their faith even as Nebuchadnezzar sought to force them against their conscience, (Daniel 2-3) the only place of civil disobedience against the laws of men are the acts that are forced because of the overstepping of Kings and Princes and States into the Spiritual Realm when they seek to, through any means, compel us to betray our faith. As we are not to force our faith on others, seeking to compel them to live by it, so can no government seek to force us to live contrary to it by their own acts and laws.
This is vital for the disciple of Christ to remember as it gives the primary means for us to successfully utilize ourselves and our faith in our understanding of the means by which God wishes us to live. After all, as C.S. Lewis would once observe, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Our focus, if we seek to preserve and defend the principles of love, faith, charity and grace, need be on how we, through our lives, our works and our deeds, give testimony to it. There is a fundamental difficulty with this when we focus our faith on the temporal through an earthly focus, failing to understand that Christ’s kingdom is not of this earth. Rather than being a vessel for the Spirit to win hearts and minds, we become intent on being a vessel for our own morality as a weapon to force others to live as we demand in the most self-righteous of ways.
Guided by hope and love be a force for change, for good in the world. Focus on personal charity rather than expecting government to legislate it or mandate it, focus on sharing a message of love to those who are hurt and wounded, the broken hearted and the downtrodden, rather than pushing for a law. Strengthen each other by what you have to give in hope to those around you, and let your life testify to a greater understanding of unity and peace. Each of us, on our own, through the power of the Spirit have the capacity to the greatest good for others while showing them the path to Christ, each day, rather than riling yourself up with current events, ask yourself how you might do that.
In doing this, our concern must be more for the spiritual welfare and edification of others. It must be to uplift them in the true messages of Christ, of which the primary is the freedom of the spirit and the liberty of the soul. By understanding, by living this we can do more for the truest forms of hope and change in this world.
How then, as a disciple of Christ do you see yourself doing the most good? How do you strengthen others? How do you edify them? This is our mandate and it comes from the truest authority over us, our God, as a personal calling to each of us as Christ’s followers. How will you live in it today?
There are few greater controversies for the disciple than the question of judging others and the proper nature of it. After all, to read the words of Scripture, to read the words of our blessed Savior himself, we come to understand that there is an inherent evil that can come with the application of our judgment as we assess the nature of sin and apply to it our own understanding.
Does this mean though that we do not judge? What do passages such as “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…” (John 8:7), “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) or the ever popular “Do not judge or you too will be judge…” (John 7:1) truly inform us of in our walk with Christ? What do they teach us of the true nature of discipleship and the way we observe others?
As with all things the truest measure of our judgment and the nature of our faith must be tempered with love. It must be met with a generous spirit given to hope and the edification of others, bearing the fruits of faith to nourish and strength the lives of others. The controversy itself was never meant to steer us away from assessing and evaluating the actions of others. It was meant to ensure that we look to ourselves, that we understand ourselves so that, in all that we do, we act in steadfast devotion to our brothers and sisters, not out of condemnation but out of affection for them.
You see, of the two greatest commandments given by Christ himself, the second is to love our neighbor, to love our fellow man, as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) What this means is that we must not be like the Pharisee, the hypocrite who deems himself righteous without a careful examination of himself, while condemning those around us for wickedness. (Luke 18:9-14) Our lives, they have to be given to a close and studious scrutiny as we daily inspect our own walks with our Savior as we are given to the Spirit of the Lord. With this this though also comes the understanding that we must hold others to the same level of accountability as we hold ourselves.
What we must remember is that, if given in the right spirit, if shown with the right heart, there is nothing more loving than to look at others, and to help them get back on the right path. If done with in faith, and charity, guided by a hope for them, it is done in a manner that does not seek to judge but that wants nothing more than to ensure that they are right with God even as we try to ensure that we are right with Him ourselves.
In hope and love for others this never comes in the form of an attack, nor should it be intended as a condemnation. The thought of stoning others, of casting them away, despising them for whatever offense they may have caused should never cross our mind. There is, after all, no means of spiritual death that we can heap upon the lives of others quite like the hurt and the sorrow we can bring with harsh words on our lips, haughtiness in our hearts and hatred in our eyes.
As a faithful and devoted disciple of Christ, given in a life of service, we cannot falter in our love for others, in our hopes for them, just as we hope for ourselves. Look to your life as a means not to judge others but to equip them for the righteous path, to nourish them for the long road through this world. This, at times, means helping them understand errors so that they can learn from them. Yet any help offered must be given in a clean heart and a right spirit that you may serve them for their greatest growth in a testimony to God’s love for them.
When this is done, when this is our nature, there is no controversy, there is no challenge, there is only the strength we can find in unity with others, rather than the pain that comes in the division of scorn.
Ultimately, for as much control as we may give God in our lives, for as much as we may say that He leads us, in free will, we are defined not by faith but by the worth we place on it in the love that we have. For though it is our faith that ultimately saves us, it is love that “covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Over the ages, considerable time has been spent debating how one truly becomes the most effective disciple of Christ, the way that one can most successfully use their faith. After all, it is James who reminds us that our faith, if it is without works, is dead. It holds not the power to save us because it has grown as stagnant, as hard and as hollow as our hearts. Our works, they represent the spirit and the soul of our faith. (James 4:14-26)
Let us consider that for a moment. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” You see, the soul and the body represent a special relationship with each other. Though one may be able to exist without the other, the body is ultimately created as a vessel for the soul, yet it is not the body that defines the soul, but rather the soul that gives its value to everything the body does, and is. Faith can exist without works, yet those works, much like the soul to the body, give faith its inherent value, its intrinsic worth in the most basic and fundamental of ways.
For faith then to hold substance it must be the vessel of our works, not only bearing its fruits but containing them, carrying them, and offering them as the means by which we edify, strengthen and uplift others. Faith, to hold significance, must be expressed by a life given in love to others. Without it, we can speak with tongues, we can seek to understand, to fathom the mysteries that surround a great and mighty God, and eloquence can drip from our mouths in defense of faith, yet it is the shell of what it must be because it gains nothing and offers less. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
How then do we love? How then do we serve as the effective disciple? This itself is easily answered by our blessed Savior Himself, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.… whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:31-46) It is to look at the world, to see the need around you with clear eyes, and, as Christ Jesus Himself had done, answer the call in patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
Though the ultimate act of love was the sacrifice of that Lamb of God who took away the sins of world, that was one example of Christ’s love amongst so many as great as it was. His ministry, His life would be eventually defined by that singular act of love in service to us, and yet it was a road paved by every act of healing, each act of giving, and the meaning that was behind it. It was a path that was laid down by His rejection of evil, hatred, slander and bitterness as we are taught the new commandment: to love one another as Christ Himself loved us. (John 13:34-35)
In the end, nothing can save us short of the faith that we have. Yet it is the character and the nature of our faith that it is the God who judges the heart who holds a power over us. Consider rightly the Lord’s admonition to the prophet, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13) Are we, as the disciples of a living God to define our own faith, and thereby seek to build our own vessels for it, ones that seek to hold faith but are cracked and broken, with the dwindling waters it holds stagnate? Or are we to pour forth living waters with fresh springs of the Lord that quench the longing thirst of the spirit and the soul?
Let your faith be a vessel for love and the works thereof. See the world as it is, a place in desperate need of healing and hope, and let the soul of your faith shine as the means of love for others. In this way we can be the effective disciple, the effective believer God and Christ intend for us to be through the power and the strength of the Spirit working through us.
Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
How can a disciple continuously walk the path set before him/her? How can we know what way is right so that we don’t step to the right or to the left of the perfect course God has for us? We’ve been given a navigator, an internal guide to keep us from wandering.
Jesus walked side by side with His disciples while ministering on the earth. They had a perfect picture of what God wanted for them, but even then they were not perfectly walking on the right path. Even with Jesus among them they made a lot of bad choices. But now in our time we don’t even have Him walking among us. If they got it wrong on so many occasions, what hope do we have?
Jesus didn’t go away and leave us alone. For a time He instructed His disciples to wait, but then when they received the Holy Spirit they were filled with power. They had been sent the third person of the Trinity to dwell within each of them. He guides, He comforts, He convicts. A disciple hears God’s voice within and knows it well. When the Spirit speaks, the disciple listens. It’s a way of life.