Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Living by the Holy Spirit

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Living by the Spirit”
For the week of  December 11-17, 2011
Walking by the Spirit is a daily, supernatural experience for those who have been born of the Spirit.  “[I]t is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  We may know the “truth” as a theory or doctrine, but unless we know the Truth, Jesus Christ, as a personal Savior, the “truth” will avail us nothing for eternity.  As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
As believers, we have the assurance that living by the Spirit can be a life of uninterrupted victories.  Our dependence is on the righteousness and perfection of Jesus, not on our performance.  By faith, we are always perfect in Him.  In the conflict between our corrupt fallen nature and the new divine nature of the Spirit, we may be more than conquerors.  “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
The question we must face is this:  Which is more powerful, the flesh or the Spirit?  Paul assures us that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another so that you cannot do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17).  What things?  Verse sixteen says that these are the evil things of the flesh.
For years that experience escaped me.  I was a preacher’s kid.  I could argue the doctrines, but I did not know Jesus as my personal Savior.  I was a Galatian.  Baptized at eight, I knew a lot about Jesus, and I wanted to go to heaven.  I even wanted to be a preacher like my Dad.  I was saved by faith, but now I thought I had to get it all perfect or I would get a rejection slip in the judgment.  Like the disciples, I loved Jesus after the flesh, but not after the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16).  An understanding of the cross and the power of the resurrection changed everything for the disciples - and for me!
That is why Paul said, “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For I determined not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:2).  As my evangelist friend Will Pergerson put it, “Salvation was one of my topics.  But when I understood the reality of the gospel, all my topics were included in salvation.”
The apostle Paul upholds Jesus as the model for us, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once and for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:10, 11).  It’s like marriage. When I married Doloris, that decision impacted every decision I’ve made since.  So, when we, by the Spirit, partake of the divine nature and accept Jesus as our personal Savior, that decision controls every  decision we make thereafter.
The works of the flesh are as certain as death and taxes unless we know Jesus as personally and as intimately as one knows one’s spouse.  A.T. Jones observed, “Every man is always free to choose which shall be his way – the way of the Spirit or the way of the flesh” (A.T. Jones, Studies in Galatians, page 165).  “If you live after the flesh you shall die; but if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live” (Romans 8:14). Living by the flesh is natural.
“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.  Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:22-26).  Note how the fruit of the Spirit is an expression of Agape love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.  This Spirit bestows the unconditional, changeless, self denying love revealed at the cross.  This love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling.  It is relational, joyful, transforming, and powerful.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  This is the work of deepening repentance.  The flesh is always ready to assert itself the moment we focus on self rather than on Jesus.  If we love Jesus, we will be constantly seeking to bless those He loves – especially the most needy of His children.  “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).  John agrees, “If someone says, ‘I love God and hates (does not love) his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the famous actor G.K. Chesterton how actors had such great power to emotionally move large audiences, and preachers so often didn’t.  Chesterton replied, “We actors treat things imaginary as though they were real.  But you preachers often treat things that are real as though they were imaginary.”
 Have I been born of the Spirit? Is Jesus real or imaginary to me?
Living by the Spirit is supernatural.  It is a vital, growing experience.  “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).  That word “know” expresses the intimacy of marriage as in “Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain” (Genesis 4:1).  
A well known actor was performing before a large audience reciting familiar parts of past scenes in which he had portrayed various characters on the stage.  He requested suggestions from the audience.
From the rear of the auditorium an elderly gentleman, a minister, requested that he repeat the twenty third Psalm.  He paused for a moment, then replied that he would if the elderly gentleman would repeat the Psalm after him.  The old man agreed.  The actor performed flawlessly and the response from the people was a thunderous applause.  The minister, as agreed, slowly made his way to the stage.  Closing his eyes, he seemed lost to all but the presence of God.  When he finished, there was no applause; only the sound of weeping.  At last the actor spoke.  “I know the Psalm, but he knows the shepherd.”  
Do you know the shepherd?
--Lloyd Knecht