Excerpt from Father, Son, and the Other One
PART TWO: A SIGN BETWEEN THE TIMES
What on earth is the Spirit doing today?
In-between is a hard place to live. Between the résumé and the job, between promise and fulfillment, between loss and the soul’s healing. During these seasons of transition, we can find ourselves in a mess of ambiguity. We’re not sure what our lives are going to look like when it’s all said and done, but we’re sure it will never look the way it did before the hurt—before the loss.
The Jews in Jesus’ day were living between the way things were and the way things were supposed to be. Jesus’ countrymen believed in a “two-age” system. The Gentiles—cruel, ruthless, merciless, tawdry pagans—dominated the present age. And they had been in control for a long time. The Jews were convinced that God was going to deliver them from this age through a sudden in-breaking of a new Kingdom age.
They thought the Messiah, when He finally came, would trounce the Gentiles like David had done the Philistines, like the Hasmonean boys—Judas, Jonathan, and Simon—had done to the Greeks a generation before them (165 B.C.). The Galileans naturally expected a conqueror who would reestablish the Davidic Kingdom forever, ushering in a new age of God’s dominion and rule.
This is why Jesus’ message of reconciliation for outsiders was so jarring.
His scandalous announcement that He’d come to save those foul and loathsome Gentiles started a riot in His hometown in Nazareth (Luke 4). These are the same Jews who watched their sons and husbands and fathers suspended between earth and sky, affixed to crosses littering the hillsides in a gruesome display of Roman brutality.
Jewish Messiahs don’t reach out to Gentiles—they exact their vengeance. Israel’s…no…God’s vengeance.
Let’s see how this homegrown “Savior” feels about the Gentiles after He bounces down the bluffs and crags of Nazareth.
The Messiah as a “great light for those in darkness” was not their vision. Not by a mile.
But Jesus insisted that He was everyone’s Christ, not just theirs. The coming of the Spirit signaled that God’s new Kingdom age had broken into our fallen world. And while it didn’t put an end to this age, it did signal that this era—this epoch—is on its way out. God was gracious enough to send us His Spirit in the middle of our mess. So we live between the times—between the old order of things and the day when Jesus will consummate His Kingdom and put an end to the corrupt governments and the crooked enterprises of men.
Part Two will address what the Spirit is doing in this in-between time. Now that we’ve established that He is a Person who is indispensible to our lives, we want to focus on what He’s up to. We’ll discover that life in the Spirit should be characterized by the attending phenomena, or the manifestations of the Spirit. A manifestation is a visible expression of an inward reality. It is this aspect of the Spirit’s work that can sometimes make us uncomfortable. The Spirit wants to equip us in this already-but-not-yet Kingdom so that we may serve others in His resurrection power and so that we may be formed into the image of Jesus.
TREASURE IN A CHIPBOARD CASE
The Spirit Is Our Inheritance
Part of receiving an inheritance is that you have to know it’s there in order to receive it. You can be sent letters about it (the Bible), but if you don’t open them up and read them, you won’t know what it is you’ve inherited. And you won’t know what to do to possess it.
—Stormie Omartian, Lead Me, Holy Spirit
My friends Steve and Barb once sent out a postcard inviting the neighbors to the church where they pastored. The postcard read, “Less Nod, More God.” The direct mailer didn’t get much traction, but the creative phrase has always stuck with me.
By all accounts, we live in a bored nation.1 Did you know that 91 percent of all young adults say they experience boredom regularly?2 A full 70 percent of us frequently use our cell phones to stave off boredom.3 Surprisingly, many Christians wonder if heaven will be boring. It seems as though Isaac Asimov’s fear has seeped into our collective consciousness: “For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.”4
Boredom is the scourge of a culture that is preoccupied with self-interests. Indeed, our founding documents supply a guarantee for the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Freedom from tyranny and the chance to pursue one’s destiny is the hallmark of the American experience. At the time our founding documents were written, the only alternative to the right to pursue happiness and personal freedom was vassalage to some unworthy despot. In a sense, the potential for personal happiness and satisfaction is our national birthright. It’s our brand. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Yet the American experience has been hijacked by the pursuit of self. In his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder, Rich Winter documents the major contributors to boredom in our nation over the last two centuries: 1) the emergence of the cult of leisure, and 2) the decline of a self-less Christian ethos.5 Our contemporary society has made it possible for us to spend our lives pursuing our hobbies and interests. This has resulted in a kind of disposable culture: Don’t like that dull marriage? Then trade it in for an exciting new one. Don’t want the onerous burden of a job? Then by all means become a freeloading parasite to society. Are the responsibilities of kids and bills cramping your style? Then swap them out for a lifestyle that fits your needs.
Most Americans have bought the lie that our highest priority in life is our immediate gratification. It is hedonism disguised in the respectable apparel of personal ambition and self-realization. But at the moment we bow to this idol of self-actualization, we become subjects to an awful tyrant. Ironically, we proclaim ourselves “free” from behind the steel rods of our self-made prisons. We declare ourselves “enlightened” when we are really the dumbest of fools. We are thin, gaunt, emaciated shadows of our Garden-selves. We have the faint likeness of heaven but not its presence. And more good news: New technologies designed to enhance our “sense experience” are rushing into existence and are being forced into the service of this bored-out-of-its-mind, overindulged self-god.
The downside to a culture where the unbridled pursuit of happiness is married to unlimited sensate technologies is that we have become inoculated from God and thus to wonder. We are lurching toward oblivion on autopilot. Numb. Dazed. Bored stiff in the middle of a verdant garden well stocked with the miraculous—a world dazzling and beautiful but damaged and broken. Like a defaced Rembrandt, or Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, marred and splotched with graffiti. Perhaps we are the ones that have been damaged. Our sight has been diminished. No longer can we see the glory of God in a glorious world. We are irked by the resplendent, annoyed by the extraordinary.
This is just part of our fallen human nature.
For example, I remember the first time I ever flew on a jet plane. All of my senses were alive during that first flight. My pulse quickened as the plane taxied and picked up speed. My stomach leapt as the jet climbed skyward. I took forty pictures of the tops of clouds that day. A century before the automobile, people thought if you travelled at 60 mph you’d fly apart. And there I was, hurtling through the air in a metal tube at 500 mph, six miles high. The thought of sleeping through that seemed crazy to me. No way!
That was twenty-five years ago. Now when I fly, smwock—in go the earplugs, back goes the seat, down goes the Dramamine, and it’s snoozeville all the way. I’m sure I’ll rediscover the wonder of flight if and when I ever take my first commercial trip to outer space. But soon after my tenth trip outside the thermosphere, I’ll be too busy to be awestruck by space. I’ll have more important things to do such as typing away on my holographic keyboard.
And so I bounce from one conquered hill to the next. And every hill reminds me that the pursuit is over and so I must cue up another finish line. We spend our lives contriving new challenges so that we can stay interested. Pretty soon, I’ll think a smartphone is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. I’ll wonder how we ever used those archaic little touch screens. Though we are wired for innovation, it’s all meaningless without God at the center of it.
The cure for a bored, overindulged life is God. Knowing and seeing the value of the Spirit deposited in our hearts is the key to revving up a wonder-less existence. We can see God’s creation with fresh eyes when the Spirit is present. We’re less likely to nod off and miss the point of life the more we allow God’s Spirit to be at the center of our endeavors and the focal point of our passions.
We need an old-fashioned epiphany. A sudden in-breaking of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. The Spirit is our first inheritance. We were made to be filled, transformed, and surrounded by His presence. Everything about a fish’s life—catching food, mating, pitching and darting with the school—can only make sense when he is surrounded and engulfed with water. And nothing about our lives—nothing else we were born to do—makes sense until we are deluged by the Spirit. Until we live and move and have our being in Him, our glorious inheritance in the saints.
Just as the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is the American birthright, so, too, is the Spirit the inheritance, the heritage of the believer.
In this chapter, we’ll tease out what it means for the Spirit to be our inheritance. We’ll discover that the Spirit enables us to know God and to discover the incomparable power of resurrection life. Paul told the Ephesian Christians:
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.
—Ephesians 1:13–14, 17–18
The Spirit had made them participants in God’s holy family, and Paul prayed that God would enlighten them—open their eyes to the rich and full life of the Spirit. But how often do we walk around with our eyes glued shut to the fullness of the Spirit’s inheritance? How often are we unaware of the value of the One whom God has placed within us? The Spirit wants to take off our blinders and rev up our humdrum lives. My friends Steve and Barb were right: More God—less nod.
Fullness of the Spirit starts with knowing God. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that they would know God better (1:17). And knowing God is a fundamentally intelligible thing. It isn’t rocket science. That is, since we were creatures made for Him, loving Him should be second nature for us. Knowing God through the Spirit comes naturally as we consider the evidence for God in nature and through direct revelation of the Spirit to our spirit. The first thing the Spirit does in this in-between era is to reveal the God of wonders to us.
We know God through indirect evidence. Jesus said to the rabbinic pundits embedded in His crowd, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Matt. 9:6). Then He told the lame man to get up and walk. In other words, Jesus called their attention to the evidence. On another occasion, Jesus challenged the pious Jews that if they couldn’t believe His lofty claims, then they should at least believe the irrefutable evidence of His miracles (John 10:36–38).
After Jesus rose from the dead, the Scripture says that He showed the disciples “many convincing proofs” in order to confirm their faith (Acts 1:3). Additionally, Luke described Paul’s primary method of evangelism as proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ as he often “reasoned with them” (Acts 17:2). When Paul made his case to the Romans, he appealed to the obvious revelation of God in nature (Romans 1:19).
Our knowledge of God is based in evidence though it is not bound by evidence. And the Spirit is the key to this. Paul stated, “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means (1 Cor 2:14, NLT). “The un-Spiritual mind cannot grasp the things of the Spirit.” Paul was referring to the revelation the Spirit gives us concerning the truth. The first thing the Spirit enables us to do is to recognize God through the miraculous: the effects of creation and supernatural signs and wonders. The Spirit gives you new eyes so that you can “wise up” to God’s activity. This is the “Spirit of wisdom” that Paul prayed the Ephesians would know.
We know God through direct revelation. Philosopher William Lane Craig is the greatest living defender of the Christian faith today, having debated prolific atheists all over the world. Dr. Craig presents a cumulative case for God’s existence based on the evidence from philosophy, science, and religious knowledge. Yet Dr. Craig maintains that it is primarily the witness of the Spirit that convinces men of the truth.6 There is no greater evidence for God than God Himself.
This is why Paul told the Ephesians that he prayed that they would receive the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that they may know God better (Eph. 1:17). Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus promised that rivers of living water would flow from within the believer (John 7:37–38). The Spirit’s internal witness is veridical and phenomenological, meaning it’s a real and direct experience of God’s Spirit.
Our first priority as believers is to know God intellectually, experientially, and personally. Our inheritance as believers is the knowledge of God through the evidence in creation and the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the wisdom to see God’s fingerprints in creation and gives a personal disclosure of His truth. Before the Spirit does anything else in our lives, He opens the eyes of our hearts that we may know God. Knowing God is the only cure to an otherwise flaccid, rhythmless, uninspired existence.
KNOW THE HOPE
G.K. Chesterton once stated, “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate.”7 After knowing their God through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know their hope (Eph. 1:18). Hope is a confident expectation of better days in the face of evidence to the contrary. And the Spirit-redeemed heart has an amazing capacity for hope.
Paul put it this way to Pastor Titus: “We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Jesus Himself is our hope. When He appears He will complete His work by transforming us into an incorruptible state (1 Cor. 15). And the Spirit was the key to this confident expectation. Paul wrote, “For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope” (Gal. 5:5). The Spirit gives us courage in the midst of a messed-up world. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that the Spirit would give them a confident expectation of better days. A hope that is imperishable and impenetrable. It is a hope that cannot be diminished by the onslaught of trying events—broken promises, temporary failure, or attacks from the enemy. This Spirit-inspired hope is part of our birthright as believers, and it is foreign to those who do not have the Spirit.
KNOW YOUR INHERITANCE
The key to this hope is our inheritance—the very presence of God in our hearts. Paul used the metaphor of a “deposit,” or an installment, guaranteeing the future completion of a transaction that starts now (Eph. 1:18). It’s as if the Spirit is the earnest payment, ensuring the final transformation that Jesus is holding for us in escrow. And the Spirit is the agent of our transformation—partially now and fully then.
Back when my wife and I were renters, we would occasionally house-sit for some friends who lived in an upscale gated community. Our friends recommended us to their neighbor, Dr. Roberts. Dr. Roberts was retired and his house looked like a sprawling mansion to me. We were glad to help him out and agreed to be freeloading squatters for a few weeks.
One of the items on my checklist for Dr. Roberts’s house was to go around and lock up all the windows and double-check all the doors. So after dinner the first night, I made my rounds and found my way down to the basement. I flipped on the light switch and peeked through the basement door window—that’s when I saw it. I spotted an old chipboard guitar case on top of a large pile of random stuff in the middle of the room. Chipboard is nothing more than painted fiberboard or cardboard. You typically don’t put an expensive solid wood spruce and rosewood guitar in a flimsy case like that. Chipboard cases are reserved for your $50 plywood guitar. Not a handcrafted work of fine luthiery.
So I assumed whatever was inside Dr. Roberts’s old case wasn’t of much value. But being a guitar guy, I just had to peek.
I popped the latches and lifted the lid and could not believe what I was looking at. There, inside, was a vintage pre-war Martin guitar in fabulous condition. The Martin Company invented the steel string acoustic guitar. I knew enough to know that the gem inside of the chipboard case was worth somewhere around $10,000 to the right collector.
I called Dr. Roberts to ask him some questions about the old treasure.
“Do you know what it’s worth?”
“Well. No. Honestly, Jeff, I don’t know anything about guitars and that one has just been in the family for a while.”
What he said next floored me. “Jeff, how would you like to take that guitar as partial payment for helping out with the place?”
“What? Um. Dr. Roberts, I appreciate that. But this guitar isn’t worth a few hundred bucks. It’s probably worth thousands of dollars. This guitar is a family heirloom. You’ll want to keep something like this in your family and pass it on to your kids someday.”
He thought for a moment and replied, “Well. I think you’re probably right then.”
Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the promise God made to Abraham to restore the world and set it right. The Spirit is our inheritance (Gal. 3:14, 18). And an inheritance belongs to the children. He is the birthright of those who by faith have embraced the world’s true Messiah—Jesus.
Before Jesus, the promise of resurrection was thought to only be for the Jews. No pagan believed in bodily resurrection anyway. But unique to Christianity was the teaching that Jesus, the perfect Jew, had already resurrected. The resurrection hope that the Jewish nation believed was their inheritance at the end of the world had already begun in the risen Messiah. He fulfilled their symbols, their sacred structures, and their Scriptures (Matt. 5:17). And now He has summoned the nations to worship Him as the vindicated, resurrected Lord.
But Christians taught that all who were born into this new family by the Spirit, both Jew and Gentile, would participate in this resurrection at the end of the world. So the Spirit is our promise that we have been spliced into the vine (Rom. 9) and that we have received the inheritance of the saints—eternal life with God.
This is why Paul can say to the Ephesians, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). We participate in Israel’s hope of future resurrection because we have been made “fellow citizens” being built into a holy temple of the Lord by the Spirit. Our future resurrection is a sure thing. You can bet on it. And God’s Spirit vouchsafes that future event. Paul stated that he wanted your eyes to be opened “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Eph. 1:18). The Spirit is the opening act—He’s the first installment of our future transformation.
KNOW THE POWER
In addition to knowing the hope that was their inheritance of future salvation, Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19–20).
Did you catch that? The same power that raised Jesus is available to the believer. It isn’t just a future expectation; it’s power for the here and now. It’s the Spirit’s power. This is part of our inheritance in the saints.
I like the way Paul put it to the Corinthian Christians: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). This treasure, God’s Spirit, is housed in a chipboard people—people who often aren’t aware that they are carriers of a most contagious and precious thing. This is an unnerving aspect of our redemption—that the third member of the Trinity inhabits such brokenness. Such frail and ruined vessels are we. God wants us to live in the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead.
That power can raise a failing marriage, it can rescue your rebellious children, and it can resurrect your ruined character.
It can heal your body, right your finances, and mend your broken mind.
That power can also give you a supernatural patience to wait in the face of agonizing delays.
The Spirit is the power of God’s Kingdom to continue Jesus’ work in this world—the work of healing, speaking God’s truth, and bringing grace to the bedraggled masses of humanity.
AN UNRULY SORT
When I was a kid I went to change the bulb in the lamp on my desk, not realizing that the bulb had been broken. I accidentally touched the filament and innards of the broken bulb. I recall briefly feeling as though worms were crawling through my veins at the speed of light. For half a second, I couldn’t pull my hand away from the lamp. It felt like forever. It had me in its grip. Then I found myself flat on my back. I thought I was going to die. My dad found me on the floor, picked me up, and took me to the living room to keep an eye on me.
I know what power feels like—raw, scorching, knocking-you-on-your-butt kind of power. Power is a good thing when properly harnessed. It can turn on your lights, start your car engine, and get your plane off the runway. Paul’s prayer for the Church was that they know the incomparable power of God. This untamable and unruly power would flow through their prayers, their symbols, and their worship. We’ve already established that the Spirit is a Person, but make no mistake about it: He is also the power of God. Our inheritance doesn’t just involve a future hope of resurrection. It is God’s power for living now. Our transformation starts in this life.
We live in this tension: As believers, we have inherited a new world, a new power, the Spirit of God Himself. Yet we live in a world that is broken through sin. And contrary to the American ethos, we do not find our significance through unrestrained self-gratification. We find it, rather, as the Spirit enables us to know our God, to grasp the hope of our inheritance, and to live in Christ’s power today.
The inheritance is for the children. And the treasure occupies a chipboard people with squeaky joints and rusted latches. That inheritance is the restored presence of God and the restored place for humanity in the Father’s household. This is the promise of our transformation. And to all those who believed on Him, to those who received Him He gave the power—the right, the authority—to become the children of God (John 1:12).
Excerpt from Father, Son, and the Other One