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14. Commitment to be Led by the Spirit

– Chapter 14 –

Commitment to be Led by the Spirit

When one becomes a Christian — a disciple of the Lord Jesus — he or she receives the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God.[1] In this chapter we look at the work of the Spirit in our lives. This is of crucial importance because we cannot achieve any­thing of spiritual value in the Christian life apart from the Spirit. Salvation cannot be of works because what the Lord requires of us is beyond what we can achieve by human effort.

The Spirit’s deep work at Pentecost

If every member of the church is totally committed to God, we will have a committed church. To see what are the marks of such a church, let us go back to Pentecost when the church began.

Pentecost had a powerful effect on the disciples. They were filled with the Spirit, and as a result they preached with bold­ness, prayed together, and spoke in tongues. The tongues spoken at Pentecost are not the same as the tongues that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. The tongues at Pentecost were given for the purpose of proclaim­ing the word of God in the human languages understood by the visit­ors in Jerusalem (Acts 2:4-12). But the tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 are unin­telligible to humans and don’t edify anyone except the ones speak­ing the tongues. Hence Paul requires the inter­pret­ation of tongues if the tongues are spoken in the church. But no interpretation was needed at Pentecost because the visitors could hear God’s message in their own languages. The point of Pentecost was not the speak­ing in tongues as an end in itself but the gospel mess­age pro­claimed to the nations. The tongues were a chan­nel to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the multit­udes gathered in Jerusalem. It was a temporary phenom­enon because the visitors soon returned to their own countries.

The community of goods

The lasting result of the pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was unity. Then something extraordinary came out of that unity: the com­mun­ity of goods, by which the people of the Jerusalem church shared all pos­sess­ions in common.

First a caveat: The community of goods is a noble ideal but we must make sure it doesn’t become a purely external arrange­ment. It is possi­ble to give all your possessions and surrender your body to be burned, yet not have love (1Cor.13:3). The commun­ity of goods is meaningful only when everyone loves his neighbor as himself. At Pentecost this was fulfilled in the church by the work of the Spirit that empowered God’s people to love their neighbor as them­selves. Only then can there be the com­mun­ity of goods in its pure sense.

They began selling their property and possessions, and were shar­ing them with all, as anyone might have need. (Acts 2:45, NASB)

This is a concrete expression of loving the neighbor as oneself. The people at Jerusalem saw each other as extensions of them­selves: your need is my need, so I will give you what is mine to meet your need. This was achieved by the work of the Spirit because the com­mun­ity of goods in Jerusalem was not a pass­ing fad but something that grew out of a deep sense of oneness. 1 John 3:17 says:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

The Jerusalem brethren opened their hearts to one another because of the Spirit’s work. They saw the needs of the many who had come to the Lord, so they sold their possessions to meet those needs. This prin­ciple was al­ready established in the Old Testament, for example in Dt.15:7:

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard­hearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. (Dt.15:7, NIV)

Verses 10 and 11 (NIV):

Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open­handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

These words, spoken by Yahweh in Israel’s early history, were applied many centuries later in Acts 4 by the brethren of the Jerusalem church who opened their hands generously to one another, meeting the needs of the thousands who had come to the Lord. Their open-hearted­ness is possible only by God’s work because we cannot on the human level tell others to sell their possessions against their will. This would be doing things the human way and by human com­pulsion. But because of the Spirit’s work, the people gave volun­tarily and spontan­eous­ly.

The spiritual fruits that emerged among the brethren — one­ness in pray­er, the per­forming of miracles, the breaking of bread, the commun­ity of goods — were also tied to the teaching of the apostles:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teach­ing and to the fellow­ship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apos­tles. All the believers were to­gether and had everything in common. (Acts 2:42-44, NIV)

Because of the apostles’ teaching and God’s powerful work, the people shared all things in common:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resur­rection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distrib­uted to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35, NIV)

The community of goods comes out strikingly in the state­ment, “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” The passage has an in­teresting structure in which v.33 on the apostle’s preaching is sand­wiched between the two verses (v.32, v.34) on the community of goods.

As a result “there were no needy persons among them”. Those who owned lands or houses would sell them and lay the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. They didn’t recklessly toss the money to the crowds in Jerusal­em but quietly placed the proceeds at the feet of the apostles, knowing that they will distribute the funds according to God’s will. Even in the giving of possessions, everything has to be done properly by the leading of the Spirit and not by human zeal.

The church, a spiritual body

Another lasting result of Pentecost was the formation of a body of believers, the church. If we don’t know what it means to love our neigh­bor as our­selves, we will never grasp the nature of the New Test­ament church. For years I struggled to understand what is the nature of the New Testament church, and made no headway until I began to think more deeply on the com­mand “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul’s concept of the church can be reconstructed from his letters. His letters are said to be “occasional letters” in the sense that each was written to a particular assembly for a specific purpose; these are not systematic writings on subjects such as the church. Hence we need to find state­ments here and there in his writings that teach about the church. Fortunately, his teach­ing on the church, the body of Christ, is concen­trated in a few places such as 1 Corinthians 12.

After I had spent years looking into Paul’s teaching of the church, one day it dawned on me that today we don’t have a church that Paul envis­ages unless we dilute the meaning of church into some abstract enti­ty. But even if we arrive at an understanding of what is the New Testament church by study­ing 1 Corinthians 12, where can we find such a church today? From my observations, such a church does not exist today except in small teams or groups.

In Paul’s teaching of the church, a key characteristic of the church is the role of the Spirit in the church, as seen in 1Cor.12:13-14:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many. (NASB)

In the next two verses (vv.15,16), Paul gives an interesting picture of the body in which a foot talks about a hand, and an ear talks about an eye. This pic­ture makes no sense until we see how the members of a body relate to one another. It is within a body that as yourself gains its fullest mean­ing. If the tip of your finger is pinched by a door, your whole body will react with great agitation. You let out a cry, and your eyes start to tear. It’s only a small finger, so why the scream? Yet the reaction is immed­iate: your other hand nurses the finger, your feet are stomp­ing, your heart is throb­bing, your complexion is chang­ing. Your whole body reacts to the pain in one finger. That is truly as yourself.

Are we similarly moved when calamities happen to others? If some­one gets hurt in a car accident, do we say “poor brother” or “poor sister” and then move on? This is like a body that doesn’t react when a finger gets hurt. If my reaction to your plight is minimal, then I don’t regard you as myself, and I don’t see you as me.

Where in the church today do we see the kind of interrela­tion­ship that Paul talks about? When Paul says that a foot or an ear is no less a part of the body than a hand or an eye, is he exaggerating what God in­tends for the church? Paul is not exaggerating. If you drop something on your toe, your whole body reacts, for the toe is connected to the rest of the body through the nervous sy­stem. The nervous system of the church is the Holy Spirit through whom we are bap­tized into one body (1Cor.12:13).

The people of the world get excited over human ties. Football and hockey fans jump up and down when there is a goal. When I was on a flight from Montreal to Vancouver, the plane stopped in Calgary. We all disem­barked and walked to the transit lounge where a television monitor was showing a hockey game between Canada and the United States. I wasn’t as interested in the hoc­key game as in the fervor of the spectators. Whenever Canada scored a goal, there would be wild celebrat­ion as if the fans had scored the goal themselves. But when the Americans scored, there would be dead silence or groaning.

I am impressed that hockey fans have a greater sense of iden­tifica­tion with each other than Christians among themselves. When some­thing good happens to you, does the church rejoice? When you are hit with a calamity, does the church feel your pain? There may be a word of sym­pathy, but is it heartfelt? Am I exaggerating when I say there is no church today of the New Testament kind whose members are bonded to each other by the Spirit such that what happens to you hap­pens to everyone?

Unity in the Spirit

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is possible only by the work of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, you can love to a certain extent but not as yourself. It also means that salvation cannot be attained without the Spirit. The same can be said of the New Testament church: without the Spirit, the church becomes a mere organiza­tion. It may be an effi­cient organiz­a­tion but the world already has too many organizations. With­out the unity of the Spirit, what we have is an organization with an ideology, not a New Testa­ment church whose members love one an­other as themselves.

Another aspect of New Testament teaching that we often miss is the concept of in Christ. We are in Christ because we have been bap­tized by one Spirit into one body (1Cor.12:13) — namely, into the body of Christ — and we are now members of the body. This unity is not an abstract ideal but some­thing that can be practiced. Many other aspects of New Testa­ment teach­ing will likewise remain abstract to us until we under­stand the prin­ciple of loving the neighbor as ourselves.

Since we are slow to understand spiritual things, Paul explains the concept of “in Christ” by means of the parallel concept of “in Adam,” which is our human identity on the physical level. Per­haps it is this that unites Canadians over their hockey team, widely viewed as the best in the world. Canadians are proud of, and identify with, their hoc­key team. Common identity in Adam has various manifestations, for example, racial identity. But by the work of the Spirit, we have a common iden­tity in Christ.

In giving, we receive

Even on the spiritual plane there is a “carnal” aspect: carnal in the specific sense of being easily understood even by the carnal person. For exam­ple Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you,” which even a carnal man can understand, for when you give, you not only receive but receive more than you have given. In giving to others, you are giv­ing back to yourself but with one differ­ence: it comes back to you with interest. This striking principle is poss­i­ble because God wants you to know that when you love your neighbor as yourself, you are also loving yourself. This also applies to forgiveness: If you forgive, you will be forgiven; if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven (Mt.6:14-15).

God sees every person you encounter as an extension of your­self even though you may not see it that way. When you give to the other person, you will receive back because he is as yourself. But if you hold some­thing back, you will lose it because you have not given it to yourself in the other person. This way of thinking requires the renewal of the mind! We need to think God’s thoughts for His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God sees the other person as being me. If I don’t forgive, I won’t be for­given. If I forgive, I will be forgiven. If the $10 note in my pocket remains in my pocket, I will lose it at the judg­ment. But if I put it into your pocket, I will gain it and much more (Lk.6:38). If I save my life for myself, I will lose it (Mk.8:35, Lk.9:24).

Some will say, “Don’t bother me with your problems. I want to en­joy life, so leave me in peace. If you talk to me about your prob­lems, it will take up my time, which means I lose a part of my life.” But it is in giving that I receive. The time I spend watching television is lost as far as eter­nity is concerned, but the time I spend with you to help you is the time I have gained as far as eternity is concerned. That is a remark­able reversal of human thinking!

Giving is the way to gain treasure in heaven (Lk.18:22). This is hard for us to understand because in human logic, if you give away what you have, you will have nothing left. But in biblical teaching, you will keep it for all eternity. What you give is registered in heaven. In giving to others, you have given to yourself. But what you keep for yourself on earth, you will eventually have to leave behind.

Spiritual equations

When we see that what we do to others, we do to ourselves, our think­ing will be reversed, and barriers will be torn down. When we read the Bible, we will see the spiritual mathe­matics behind this principle. Consi­der these three statements:

1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart

2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself

3. Love one another as I have loved you

Each statement is scripturally correct. When you reflect on them, you will see equations linking them. Loving your neigh­bor as yourself is to love him with all your heart. The third statement, “as I have loved you,” brings Christ into the pic­ture and raises the standard for “love one an­other” and “love your neigh­bor”. Hence we see a link between “as I have loved you” and “with all your heart” and “as yourself,” since all these express total self-giving love. The first state­ment, “you shall love the Lord your God,” is seen in the fact that what you do to your neighbor, you do to yourself and above all to God, who is hidden in the neighbor.

Another equation is that God loves us as Himself. This remark­able principle is found in Deuteronomy 32:10 (NASB):

He found him in a desert land,

And in the howling waste of a wilderness;

He encircled him, He cared for him,

He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.

God found Israel in the wilderness and cared for him, even protecting him as the pupil of His eye. Just as the body reacts over a hurt finger, so God regards Israel as the pupil of His eye, the most sensitive part of the body. One grain of sand can irritate the eye. This shows the extent of God’s care for you: you are as dear to Him as the pupil of His eye.

We see this also in Psalm 17:8 (“Guard me as the apple (pupil) of your eye”) and Zechariah 2:8 (“He who touches you touches the apple of His eye”). God’s love for us is seen in His deep sensi­t­ivity to what happens to us. Whatever happens to His people hap­pens to God in a profound way. He cares about our needs and sufferings, for in all the afflictions of His peo­ple, God was afflicted (Isaiah 63:9).

What “as I have loved you” means to us: four points

First point: When Jesus says “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12), he is speaking as one who has done the very thing he tells us to do. As a sinless offering for our sake, he himself fulfilled the law summed up in loving the neighbor.

Second, “as I have loved you” sets the high standard for the way we love one another. The words “as I have loved you” bring out a love that is total and self-giving, and exemplified by how Jesus loved us and gave himself for us (Gal.2:20).

Third, “as I have loved you” brings out the truth that Jesus loves me every moment of every day. His love for me is ongo­ing. No member of a body is meant to be a part of the body only part-time. It must always be connected to the body if it is to be a part of a living body. Because I am in Christ and united to him by the Spirit, I live in the confidence of his love for me every moment of every day.

Fourth, “as I have loved you” expresses Jesus’ total identifi­cation with us. This identification is seen in other statements such as “he who receives you receives me” (Mt.10:40) and “he who rejects you re­jects me” (Lk.10:16). The iden­tification extends even to the least of his brethren (Mt.25:31-46, the parable of sheep and goats). Some Christ­ians think that Christ identifies more strong­ly with church lead­ers or spiritual people, but the fact is that whatever is done to the least of his brethren is done to him.

How God and Jesus identify with us: five points

We now summarize in five points the scriptural evidence for God’s and Jesus’ identifi­cat­ion with us. This will overlap with some of the points in the preceding section. Because of this identificat­ion, when we love our neigh­bor as ourselves, we love God and Christ. The following is not exhaustive but merely serves to bring out some important truths.

  1. The image of God. What I do to my neighbor is done to God Himself be­cause my neighbor bears the image of God by reason of creation and re­demption (Gen.1:27; Jms.3:9). God’s image in man has not been eradicated but is seen in man in its full glory (1Cor. 11:7).
  2. What we do, or fail to do, to the least of the brethren, we do or fail to do to Jesus himself (Mt.25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and goats). When Paul was persecuting Christians, he was perse­cut­ing Christ himself (Acts 9:4-5). What you do to a believer, you do to Christ, for the neighbor is identified with Christ. The identifi­cation is so strong as to bring out representation: “he who receives you re­ceives me” (Mt.10:40) and “he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk.10:16).
  3. There is total identification with Christ because we are in Christ (2Cor.5:17; Rom.12:5). What we do to someone who is in Christ is done to Christ himself.
  4. Christ identifies with us because we are members of his body, the church (1Cor.12:27; Col.1:18; 1:24). We have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13), uniting us with him (Rom.6:4-5) and with one another. Our union with Christ is seen also in the fact that we are betrothed to him (2Cor.11:2).
  5. The believer’s physical body is the temple — the dwell­ing place — of God. What we do to the believer is done to God’s dwelling and to God Himself (1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19-20). Hence we must honor the sanctity of the body. Harming one’s own body (e.g., by gluttony or drug abuse) is an action against God and His dwell­ing place.

A personal lesson

Early in my Christian life, I tried very hard to be a good Christian. For three years I tried with everything I had, yet I failed. In discour­age­ment and despair, I knelt before God and said, “Lord, I am sorry I cannot live the life you have called me to, and I don’t want to dishonor your name.” Others thought I was a good Christian but the reality was that I couldn’t live up to what God required of me. So I said, “Lord, the greatest favor I can do for you is for me to stop calling myself a Christ­ian and to leave the church all together.” Then God graciously showed me that I was trying to live under the Law and to fulfill the commands in my own strength. After three years, by which time I had become ex­hausted and couldn’t carry on, I handed my life over to the control of the Spirit, and soon everything changed.

I think everyone has to go through this learning process. I knew about the Spirit but I wasn’t taught to depend on the Spirit moment by moment. But one day I opened my life to God and said, “Lord, please take control of my life,” and He did. Things became very differ­ent after that. God honored my effort to live the best I could, and I experienced many miracles as did the Israelites in the wilderness. They weren’t always an obedient people, yet they experienced many miracles by God’s mercy. That is why I have been able to give my testimony in How I Have Come to Know the Living God, which recounts many marvelous mir­acles of God.

God knew I had been trying hard to live the Christian life. When I finally surrendered to Him, He brought me out of the old covenant phase of my life and into the new covenant phase. It doesn’t mean that all my spiritual issues were resolved in one flash: the Spirit contin­ues to work in us. But on our part we cannot be passive; we still have to strive to enter by the narrow gate. But when we determine to follow God, He will give us strength even in the matter of fulfilling our commitment to Him.

I hope you can see the beauty of living in the fullness of the Spirit. The filling is not just about speaking in tongues or preaching the gos­pel but a whole new way of thinking. We relate to people in a new way and aim for a new society and community of God’s people that shines as light in the darkness of the world.

[1] For the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God: 1Cor.2:10-14; Gen.1:2; Ex.31:3; 35:31; Num.24:2; 1Sam.10:10; 11:6; 19:20,23; 2Chr.15:1; 24:20; Job 33:4; Eze.11:24; Mt. 3:16; 12:28; Rom.8:9,14; 1Cor.3:16; 7:40; 12:3; Eph. 4:30; Phil.3:3; 1Jn.4:2.


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