Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Romans 8:9-11 – Where do you live?

Paul wants his readers to have spiritual comfort, which is a mark of an authentic pastor. The comfort that he mentions is one that is drawn from what God in Christ has done, is doing and will yet do for his people. In particular here, he wants his readers to think about aspects of comfort that come from the work of the indwelling Spirit, whom Jesus said in the Upper Room would function as the heavenly Comforter.
 ‘Where do you live is a question?’ that I answer several times a week. Or I may be asked about my national identity or similar questions. Paul reminds us here that there are only two locations in which we can live. One is what he calls the flesh and the other is what he calls ‘in the Spirit’. As we think of those two locations, there are some brief comments that we can make.
First, every human apart from Jesus is born in the land of the flesh and lives there for a while. When Adam and Eve were created, they did not belong to the land of the flesh, but they became part of it when they sinned in the garden of Eden by disobeying God.
Second, Jesus came into the world in order to take us out of the land of the flesh. The flesh from this point of view is the power that kept us captive in the chains of our sins. We were willing subjects and we needed a divine rescue, otherwise we would remain in this awful location forever.
Third, the removal from the land of the flesh to the place of the Spirit occurs at some stage in this life when we respond to the gospel and experience the Saviour’s delivering power. How this is done varies from person to person, but the outcome is the same for all of them. They find themselves taken to another place to live.
Fourthly, when we leave the land of the flesh, we take some of the flesh with us. This means that none of the people who move to live in the land of the Spirit are sinless and perfect. Instead they have with them relics of the sinful nature that once dominated them and at times they can follow the desires of those relics and live like those who live in the land of the flesh.

Fifthly, those who live in the land of the Spirit also have the Holy Spirit living inside each of them permanently. He has come to live within them for several reasons and we will think about some of them in future readings.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Romans 8:5-8 – The necessity of deliberate choice

Paul makes clear in this passage that we are responsible for setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. In other words, we have to exercise our minds. We are not to be passive, waiting for something to happen to us. God expects us to use our faculties and engage in mental effort through his strength. None of us can say that we cannot do this. If we believe in Jesus, the Spirit is at work within us secretly to bring this about clearly in our thoughts. What is it like to think as a Christian? Here are some suggestions.

First, a Christian will think about spiritual things instinctively. By this, I mean that he does not find it an unusual activity. What does a football supporter think about instinctively? He will think about his team. Who does a parent think about instinctively? A father or mother will think about their children and how to care for them. What country in the world does a person think about instinctively? He or she will think about their homeland. In a far higher sense, a Christian will think about the things of the Spirit. If he or she does not do so, there is something wrong with them spiritually.

Second, a Christian will think about the things of the Spirit progressively. Christians grow in understanding of the things of God gradually, and such growth will happen. All Christians will grow in grace, although not at the same rate.

Third, a Christian will think about the things of the Spirit appropriately, in ways that are suitable and relevant to his current situation. If he has sinned, he will think of God’s forgiveness; if he is under temptation, he will think of God’s help; if he is facing choices, he will think of God’s promises of guidance; if he is going through difficult providences, he will think of God’s wisdom and power. In times of joy he will recall the goodness of God; if he is facing turmoil, he will think of the peace that God has to give. There are many ways of thinking appropriately about the things of the Spirit.

Fourth, a Christian will be pleased with the things of the Spirit. He will not be satisfied entirely with his progress because he is aware that he has to continue in thinking about them. Yet he is glad to discover that he has a delight in and a longing to focus on them. Once he has tasted them he does not desire the taste of anything inferior. He discovers that the things of the Spirit are comforting and challenging, plentiful and personal, ideally meeting the needs of his or her soul.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Romans 8:5-8 – The Things of the Spirit

Paul reminded the Romans that the possession of spiritual life will result in changed thinking, and this new way of thinking focuses on the things of the Spirit. What did Paul have in mind by the things of the Spirit?

One answer to the question is that the Spirit wants us to think about Jesus. Remember what Jesus said in John 14:25-26 to the apostles: ‘These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’ The Spirit’s task was to instruct them in the things of Christ, and what they were reminded of has been given to us in the New Testament.

So the Spirit instructs us about Jesus through the Bible, from both the Old and New Testaments. The writers of the New Testament show us how to find Jesus in the Old, and there are numerous pictures and prophecies of him there. In addition, we have the amazing accounts of what Jesus said and did recorded in the Gospels and these are worked out in the epistles. In particular, the Spirit delights to enlighten us about the cross and what took place there when Jesus suffered for our sins, and he delights to tell us about the exaltation of Jesus which commenced with his resurrection.

Of course, the Holy Spirit is not limited to bringing us things about Jesus, for he also teaches us to think about God the Father and also about himself. And as with the things of Christ, there is a vast range to focus on. We can think about the Father's attributes and his promises. There are too many to mention here, but we can ask the Holy Spirit to bring an attribute of God or a promise of God to our minds so that we can think about them.

The Holy Spirit can also remind us of what he does for us and in us. Indeed, many such things are mentioned in this chapter of Romans. He gives us assurance, he stimulates us to pray, he makes us like Jesus, he gives us beautiful characteristics, he works twenty-fours a day to sanctify us, he gives us spiritual gifts, and he brings the Bible to our minds, with its many promises and requirements.

Great blessing is the outcome of setting our minds on the things of the Spirit.