Identity in Christ and God’s Provision

Jesus said to his followers, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser….I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:1,5 ESV).  Jesus calls us to follow him as his disciples, and when we receive him and follow him, we become “in christ,” a healthy branch connected to the life sustaining vine. We live in him, and he lives in us.  We have a new life and identity in Christ as well as freedom from the law of sin and death. When we are in Christ, there is not condemnation, and we are co-heirs with him and share in his glory (Rom 8:17). We receive all the riches and spiritual blessings of Christ.

God created us as contingent human beings who have needs that are intended to be fulfilled through him alone.  We have physical and psychological needs that God intends to satisfy.  When we are “in Christ” all of our needs have already been met, and thus we should grasp this truth and yield to God and not attempt to fulfill our needs solely in our own strength.  God will use all types of means as he provides, and we must trust in his perfect timing.       

A Quiet Mind Before God

St. Teresa of Avila, in her book The Interior Castle, writes,

“Meanwhile the will, entirely united to God, is much disturbed by the tumult of the thoughts : no notice, however, should be taken of them, or they would cause the loss of a great part of the favour the soul is enjoying.  Let the spirit ignore these distractions and abandon itself in the arms of divine love: His majesty will teach it how best to act, which chiefly consists in its recognizing its unworthiness of so great a good and occupying itself in thanking Him for it.” (64) 

When we enter into quiet prayer, our minds and will often dart in numerous directions. We should practice on ignoring these thoughts and continue to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.  We do well to focus our hearts ablaze on his loving embrace while recognizing our unworthiness of so great a love. As a result, we occupy our minds with worshipful gratitude.   

Spiritual Disciplines

God wants to dance with us!  He wants to be intimately involved in every area of of lives, and he wants to grow us in godliness and in our relationship with him. Spiritual growth is a harmonious relationship orchestrated by God and us. The spiritual growth process is accomplished by God, but we have our own responsibilities in the process. We are to completely depend upon him and exercise discipline.[1]

While dependence on God is our primary focus, God has given us the means by which we are to exercise discipline “for purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7 NASB).  Since biblical times, God’s means for spiritual growth has been through the classic spiritual disciplines consisting of solitude, silence, simplicity, study, prayer, service, and fasting.[2] Donald Whitney writes, “ God has given us the Spiritual Disciplines as a means of receiving His grace and growing in Godliness. By them we place ourselves before Him to work in us.”[3] Thus, through the spiritual disciplines, we are presenting ourselves before God, exercising our devotion to him while believing that by his grace, he will move in our lives in powerful and in transformative ways.  

God has ordained the spiritual disciplines, and Christians throughout history have walked the “path of disciplined grace,”[4] recognizing that spiritual growth is not optional and there is are no spectators in the arena of personal sanctification. God has commanded that his people be holy as he is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16), and the Apostle Paul instructed his reader with the metaphor of training like an athlete in order to illustrate how Christians should train in the spiritual life (1 Cor 9:24-27). Furthermore, Christians have looked to Christ’s practice of and commitment to the spiritual disciplines as an example to model their lives after. The focus of spiritual growth is to become more Christ-like, so in order to become more like him, we must follow him in the exercise of spiritual disciplines.  Dallas Willard explains in his book the Spirit of the Disciplines,

The secret of the easy yoke, then, is to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest all our time and our energies of mind and body as he did.  We must learn how to follow his preparations, the disciplines for life in God’s rule that enabled him to receive his Father’s constant and effective support while doing his will.  We have to discover how to enter into his disciplines from where we stand today⎼and no doubt, how to extend and amplify them to suit our needy cases.[5]


[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), Google Play edition, 76-77.

[2] Several writers have developed comprehensive lists of the spiritual disciplines, but for the purpose of this discussion, I have listed a short list of the classic spiritual disciplines.

[3] Donald Whitney. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 18.

[4] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins, 2002), EPUB edition, ch.1, “The Spiritual Disciplines Open the Door.”

[5] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins, 1991), 9.

 

 

Sanctification and Spiritual Warfare

 Oh my soul, Why are you downcast? Why are you hiding in darkness?  Why are you trying to cover yourself? Why the pain, torment, destruction? Why in the company of a murderous prowler? Step out into the light.  Come out of the shadows. Repent and embrace your loving creator. Receive the breath of life.  Put on his redemption, his protecting armor.  Stand in the might of your warrior King.  Resist that ancient crushed head serpent.  Renew your mind from the vanities of the world.  Fill yourself with the sweet words of honey.  Celebrate the death of your flesh.  Do not put on those rancid grave clothes.  Spread your “wings sheathed with silver and feathered with gold,” Oh pure dove of God. (Ps. 68:13 NIV)

“Know may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23)

Eternal Perspective

According to a theistic worldview, there is an ultimate, infinite, intelligent, personal deity (God), who is the creator of everything that exists in any physical or spiritual realm.  God has always existed from eternity past and will always exist in the present and eternity future.  God will never cease to exist; thus, God is eternal and has control over the ending results and the eternal outcomes of everything that exists.

From a Christian theistic perspective, God has an eternal plan for the created order. Since God is relational, he desires to be in loving relationship with his human creation for eternity. Although humanity has fallen away from their creator, God has intervened through the life and Ministry of Jesus Christ making an eternal personal relationship possible.  When we enter into this loving relationship with God, through Jesus Christ’s reconciling ministry, we become God’s eternal people.  Upon death, the end result is “resurrection into an eternally new existence of light, life and love characterized by intimacy with God and others.”[1]

This outlines the eternal perspective that we should have in our lives.  We are a part of something beyond this temporal earthly existence. God has established a heavenly kingdom, and his kingdom has come upon us through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and will arrive in fullness at the return of Jesus Christ.  As people in loving relationship with God, we are his kingdom people, and we will rule and reign with God for eternity.  

Thus, we must align our lives with God’s eternal kingdom perspective by engaging in behaviors and activities that further his kingdom purposes.  Our lives, desires and ambitions must be continually examined in order to be conscious of whether we are operating with a temporal perspective or an eternal perspective.  Are we striving for our own temporal personal kingdom or for the kingdom of God?  Eternal perspective taking involves continually reflecting on the eternal truths that God has revealed to us. Kenneth Boa writes, “Only when we renew our minds with biblical truth and reinforce this truth through relationships with other children of the kingdom do we begin to see that we are on a brief pilgrimage.”[2]


[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image : Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation.  (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), Google Play edition, 60.

[2] Ibid., 61.

Prayer

This is a concluding prayer of the prior three post entitled Loving God Completely, Loving Ourselves Correctly and Loving Others Compassionately.

“Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake.” [1]- Attributed to St. Richard of Chichester (1197–1253).  Adapted by Kenneth Boa.

 

[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), Google Play edition, 31.

Loving Others Compassionately

Once we identify as being in loving relationship with God and his family, our actions will flow from this identity.  We become more like God in our character and actions, becoming less self-centered and more other-centered.  From a place of loving security as a result of God’s love and biblical self-love, we become secure and free to love and serve others without selfish or manipulative motives.  Boa writes, “The more we take pleasure in loving and serving God, the greater our capacity to take pleasure in loving and serving people.” [1]

When God, the son, became incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth, his earthly ministry was the ultimate example of loving and serving others, even to the point of suffering and sacrificing his life by death on a cross.  As God’s people, we are to follow Christ’s example of loving servanthood towards others.  The Apostle Paul taught this to the church at Philippi when he wrote,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8).

Following Jesus in a life of loving and serving others will not always be easy.  We will experience moments of pain and suffering from the very people we are loving and serving.  In these moments, we must recognize and lean on God’s grace and forgiveness in our life and extend that to others.  Pain and suffering is momentarily for the people who belong to an eternal God. We are God’s eternal people and must live our lives with an eternal perspective while experiencing pain and suffering from those whom we are in relationships with.  Furthermore, we take no earthly possessions with us when we die, but what we can take with us are the souls of others.  Boa writes, “if we are investing in the lives of people, our investments will accrue dividends forever, since people were made in the image of God to inhabit eternity.” [2]

 

[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001) Google Play edition, 47.

[2] Ibid., 48.