Monday 25 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (41/50) – The Walk of the Believer: The Freedom of the Spirit

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the forty-first of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:1, 16, 22-23, 25

Guilty and condemned, awaiting sentence, the prisoner hears the judge say, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.’ Reconciled to God through the cross we are free, free from the law, free from the power of sin, free from the fear of death – free to live and serve the Lord who has freed us in the power of his Spirit.

Free, but not perfect! The Holy Spirit has made us new creations, already enjoying our inheritance in the new Jerusalem, already signed-up citizens of the Kingdom of God; but the ‘sinful nature’ is not completely vanquished and the world around us is still troubled and sometimes very dark.

So we live by the Spirit, in this world between the ages, until at last we and all the saints reign with him in the new creation. At conversion God begins through the Spirit to exercise his claim on every aspect of our lives. Here, in Galatians, Paul outlines some of the ways the Spirit works in the individual believer.

Our freedom, our new life in Christ, is a free gift of grace – ‘not of ourselves’ in any way. But then Paul calls us to keep in step, to run the race, to be transformed – a calling to a lifelong cooperation with the Spirit’s work, transforming our personalities, growing these fruit of the Spirit, changing us into the likeness of Christ. But it’s not automatic – we can hinder the Spirit’s work in our lives and in our communities.

Beyond producing his fruit in us, the Spirit works through other people and through all the influences and experiences of life, in ordinary ways, and, sometimes, in extraordinary ways – dreams, words of knowledge, discernment and wisdom for particular situations (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). And he works to bring the word of God alive to us (John 14:25-26), renewing our minds (Romans 12:2), so that we are better able to bring the transforming power of his love into the everyday worlds we inhabit.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. ‘Do not quench the Spirit, but test everything’ Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. Looking back, are you aware of times when you have quenched the Spirit in some way? Or failed to test an action or a change of course that seemed to be right at the time?

2. The fruit of the Spirit listed here in Galatians are not of course the only virtues that Christians are encouraged to develop under the Holy Spirit’s leading. Paul and the other Bible writers mention others. Some have commented that these fruits are rather more feminine than masculine virtues! Where are courage, decisiveness, strength, discipline? Where are the current favourite virtues – flexibility, tolerance, celebrity, humour? This could make an interesting discussion!

3. In the process of assessing ourselves and repenting of our lack of love, joy, etc., how much does it help to have one or two very close friends who can pray with us and help us in our cooperation with the Spirit?

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