Anthony spills over with enthusiasm every time we talk. Not so long ago, he was a typical American man; focused on making money, getting the cute girl, and driving his Hummer to impress. But it wasn’t returning the happiness he wanted. He was like a man with a thirst who couldn’t find water! Then a woman who was suffering took note of his spiritual need, caught his attention, and simply told him to start praying. Jesus met him and the Spirit started to work in his life. Over a period of about six months everyone around him noticed a profound transformation taking place, a sense of serenity, a love for others, a hunger for God. Anthony is not quite a saint yet. By his own admission, he is a work in progress. The part of his story that captivates me is that he did not start down this path by learning 16 fundamental truths of a church or by joining a class that taught him Christian doctrines. He pursued a relationship with God, met Jesus, and is being changed by the Spirit.
Do we too often try to make converts by convincing others of our ‘truth,’ instead of introducing others to Jesus? Yes, let it be known that sound doctrine is important. Anthony realized that a few months into his journey and started searching for a church where he could be taught about serving the God he already had come to love so deeply! That’s how I met him when he started to attend the church with his girlfriend.
Friend, do you love Jesus or do you ‘love’ an idea?
Is your faith a true walk with God or is agreement with a set of truths and a set of behavioral values?
In the average American church this Sunday a ‘worshipper’ will encounter little in the way of the ‘mystery of faith!’ The wonder of knowing God has been screened out, replaced with rational, reasonable, and practical programs and talks designed to help people cope with life. Spirituality, as presented by most of our churches, is fixed around being morally upright citizens, respectable people who make token references to a Jesus that lives only in an ancient Book and/or in the pictures on the Sunday School walls. Instead of embracing the pain, the struggles, the doubts that make us desperate to know God, we carefully air brush those things out of our church lexicon and work out neat explanations for life which we ardently believe – until they don’t work anymore – and then we become churched agnostics. Genuine spirituality is messy, mysterious, and uncontrollable and that’s simply too risky to encourage!
The true Christian life is a Spirit thing!
Jesus described the work of the Spirit to a man hungry to know God this way; “Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” . . .
Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. . . . the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. . . .
You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (John 3:3-9, The Message)
A couple of decades later, when there were Believers all over the Roman empire, men and women whose lives were wondrously changed by the Spirit, along came religious teachers who tried to kill the mystery and substitute their systems and rules. Amazingly, those who truly knew God, the Holy Spirit, often were deceived by the religious tone and seemingly rational presentations. This led Paul, the messenger of the Spirit, to something like rage! To one group of Believers who had traded their relationship with God for a religion he wrote —
“You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” (Galatians 3:1-4, The Message)
It’s a Spirit thing. Our faith is first relational, then propositional; knowing Jesus by the Spirit, and then learning the foundational Truths about life from Him.