Experiencing the supernatural – personally  

Romans 8:10 in the NIV translation reads, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

That’s a clear statement that we are both body and spirit, or both natural and supernatural, but the supernatural only comes alive in us “because of righteousness.” And obviously it means Christ’s righteousness, because the first part of the verse says, “If Christ is in you…”  

So if Christ’s righteousness is in us the supernatural comes alive in us. But how does that work, exactly? Verse 11 explains: It’s because the same Spirit that brought Jesus to life from the dead “gives life to our mortal bodies” too. So this is the Spirit of God’s doing. The Spirit now does for us what he did for Jesus, by living the supernatural in us, just like he lived the supernatural in Jesus. 

And what the Spirit produced in Jesus – that gave supernatural life to his natural, mortal body – was “righteousness,” the desire and ability to “fully meet the righteous requirements of the law” (verse 4). And Jesus experienced that all through his human lifetime. So, therefore, can we, because that same “Spirit of Christ” now lives in us (verse 9).  

We are now able to do the most supernatural thing possible for humans to do, which is obey God to the full in every part of his purpose and plan for us. And we can safely say it’s “supernatural,” because we didn’t desire that at all without the Spirit of Christ living in us. Instead we were stuck with a mindset that was “hostile to God,’ that would not “submit to God’s law,” and was totally Incapable of doing so (verse 7). We couldn’t even “please” God (verse 8).  

But that changed when Jesus died, because his death released us from the grip of our old hostile mindset, and enabled “the Spirit of God” to live in us (verse 9), providing us with a brand new way of thinking. The desire to be “righteous” now comes alive in our heads, which the Spirit does by living the same righteousness – the same desire Jesus had to obey God’s law and plan to the full – in us. 

And it happens in two ways: the Spirit enables us to think and live like Jesus did, first of all, and we then choose, or “set our minds” (verse 5), to living what the Spirit happily and willingly desires for us and enables us to do. 

“Therefore,” writes Paul in verse 12, when we’ve grasped what the Spirit in us desires and makes possible, “we have an obligation” to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” – because this is what we can now do. And why wouldn’t we want to do it, when it’s “the misdeeds of our bodies” that wreck our lives (verse 13), and are causing misery for the rest of creation too (verse 22)? 

But now, thanks to the Spirit’s supernatural mindset coming alive in us, we’re no longer “controlled by the sinful nature,” the source (verse 9) of all our problems and the misdeeds of our bodies. And the grand result of that is, “you will live,” says Paul in verse 13.

And by “you will live” Paul meant we can now “live” the solution to our problems, because, verses 14-15, when we’re “led by the Spirit of God” we are “sons of God.” And what a different relationship with God that creates, compared to the “hostile” relationship we had with him before, when it suddenly comes alive in our heads that the God of the universe is, in fact, our loving Father. 

What a “glorious freedom” that opens up to us (verse 21), because when we see God as our loving Father, we now want to please him by fully meeting the requirements of his law,. And that’s the best thing ever, because it means we can now live the solution to our human problems, which in turn means we are no longer “slaves to fear” anymore, verse 15. We’re no longer stuck under the constant cloud of not knowing how to solve our problems or put to death the misdeeds of our bodies, because we know the solution and we’re living it.

When Paul says, “you will live,” then, he means we can live the supernatural solution to our human problems and misdeeds of the body. And in the process we are experiencing the supernatural – personally. 

What makes life worth living now? It’s becoming an “Instrument of righteousness”

Romans 6:13 has this rather odd statement from Paul, that we “offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.”

Whatever it means, this is what we’re now capable of, now that our “old self has been crucified with Jesus,” “our body of sin has been rendered powerless,” verse 6, and we’ve been raised with Jesus to “live a new life,” verse 4, a new life of “wholehearted” focus on God and his amazing plan for us (verse 17). 

But what makes this new life so great? It’s the “benefits” that open up to us, says Paul. Instead of our “mortal body obeying its evil desires” – those wrong desires we had no control over, that we look back on with embarrassment and shame (verses 12 and 21) – we are free of that useless nonsense, and in its place we can live a life right now that “leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life,” verse 22.   

“Holiness” means we can actually know and experience in this new life of ours what God is like, because God is holy, and here’s Paul saying we can be holy too. And being holy, according to Paul, means we can start experiencing in this life now what eternal life will be like too. 

Just those two benefits alone make our life worth living now, but even better still they bring our old dead body consumed by sin to roaring life as a potential and powerful “instrument of righteousness.”

But what’s so great about that?   

Well, it helps knowing what “righteousness” means, first of all, which in the simplest, most practical terms in 1 John 3:7 is defined as: “he who does right is righteous.” And Paul defines what “right” is in Romans 6:17: it’s “wholehearted obedience” to the teachings of scripture. So we’re left in no doubt as to what “righteousness” means. It means “doing the right thing,” or “making wrong things right,” or “putting the world to rights” according to God’s definition of right and wrong. 

And we become instruments in God’s hands for doing just that: making wrong things right. So when Paul writes in verse 13, “offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness,” every part of me now has that potential of turning wrong into right. And since that’s what God freed me from the clutches of sin to do, I can expect his help in bringing that potential into living reality in whatever I now turn my hand and brain to. 

For me it’s primarily turning people’s wrong picture of God into a right one, and trusting God to make me a jolly useful instrument of that righteousness. But it’s also about being honest, truthful and genuine in a world of lies, scams and destructive gossip. It could also mean joining a protest march against some obvious injustice. It’s anything involving turning wrong into right. 

And God’s got all of us now as instruments of such righteousness in his hands, to “open people’s eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,” Acts 26:18. 

We all have skills, talents, interests, personality strengths, and things we get steamed up and excited about, that God would love to use to help his hurting, suffering children, and put his groaning creation to rights. It’s been his most passionate desire, ever since we jumped the tracks in Genesis, to right the wrongs and “bless us by turning each of us from our wicked (self-destructive) ways,” Acts 3:26. 

God wants to “bless” us humans, starting with those he calls to be Christians, who catch on to how much good we can do in this world when we know this is what God called us to do, and therefore he’ll kick in with his mighty power, love and wisdom to make what good and right things we hope to accomplish both visible and helpful in the world we find ourselves in. 

Christians through history have done amazing things, and probably been amazed themselves at how well their hopes and plans have worked. But isn’t that exactly what our God wants us to clue into? That we’re his “instruments of righteousness,” meaning he’ll give us the power to make good things happen and make people’s lives better. We can ease suffering, help to heal the planet, and see our noble passions fulfilled. 

And what if others love what they see in us, and without even realizing it are drawn into living it too? I think of the children and grandchildren of Christians, kids who may never darken the door of a church, but have become instruments of righteousness in their words and actions too, just as God promised in Acts 2:39. 

But God has always had his band of revolutionaries and protesters turning the world right side up, because that’s his noble passion and he delights in those like us who share it. He’ll make sure, then, that our lives are worth living as we discover the joy of being an instrument of righteousness in his hands. 

  

Called to be “slaves to God” – but how is that good news?

Romans 6:22 says that Christians “have become slaves to God.” Which could be a hard pill to swallow with our horrible history of slavery over the last few centuries. It conjures up pictures of black Africans being cruelly chain ganged onto slave ships against their will and being dragged off into who knows what hell on some plantation somewhere, or much worse. 

There’s a difference, however, in the type of slavery Romans 6 is getting at. It’s not something done against our will. Several times in this chapter it talks about us “offering” ourselves, as something we do by choice and willingly. Like verse 13, for instance, which says “offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” It’s something we do willingly, and for good reason too.

But it’s still in the context of a master and slave, to get the point across that our lives are always under the control of a master of some sort. That’s made clear in verse 14, which says, “For sin shall not be your master,” meaning that sin was our master, and we were slaves to it. But, Paul adds, the only reason we’re not slaves to ‘master sin’ any longer is because we’ve willingly given ourselves to another master instead (verse 13). 

We never stop being slaves, then. To begin with we are “slaves to sin” and under the mastery and control of sin, verse 16, but later on we switch to being “slaves to God” and under his mastery and control. And it’s either one or the other too; there’s no in-between. 

We are, as verse 16 also states, “slaves to the one we obey,” and there are only two masters in this world we obey: either sin or God. And that means, verse 19, that every human life is either in “slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness,” or we’re in “slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” Again, it’s either one or the other, and no in-between. 

Romans 7 says the same thing, that we were “prisoners of the law of sin,” verse 23, or as verse 5 phrases it, “we were controlled by the sinful nature.” “But now,” verse 6, “by dying to what once bound us….we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” So, again, it’s either one or the other. 

Romans 8 says the same thing too, that we’re either ruled by the “law of the Spirit of life,” or the “law of sin and death,” verse 2. And in verses 6 and 8 our minds are either “controlled by the Spirit,” or “controlled by the sinful nature.”  

So we’re controlled by, bound by, ruled by, prisoners of, or in slavery to, either one of two masters. “You (Christians), however,” Paul adds in verse 9, “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you.” 

So we’re never outside the control of something. Or as Paul phrases it rather tongue in cheek in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” But the moment we’re “set free from sin,” we immediately switch over to becoming “slaves to God,” verse 22, and “slaves to righteousness,” verse 18. 

And we switch over willingly too. Why? Because for all our best efforts and good intentions – including trying our hardest to keep God’s law (like Paul in Romans 7) – we cannot get control over “the evil right there” with us, “waging war” in our minds to make us “prisoners of the law of sin,” Romans 7:22-23, nor can we stop our minds being “hostile to God,” Romans 8:7, and nor can we “put to death the misdeeds of our bodies,” verse 13. 

So we cannot stop violence, racism, revenge, jealousy, pride, greed, or our addictions to our self-destructive ways. And how frustrating that is for people who’d love to see our world at peace, and families and nations getting along together. And it gets scary too, as to what our stupidity and weakness will do to our planet and our mental health, and to our sense of security and safety when the gods we depend on fail us, and nothing we do works. 

But all that goes out the window when we’re “slaves to God,” because from him we “don’t receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear,” verse 15. And why is that? Because “those who are led by the Spirit of God are God’s children,” verses 14 and 16. And as his children he frees us from the frustration, futility and hopelessness caused by the sinful nature we have no control over naturally (verses 20-21). 

That’s why being “slaves to God” is such good news, because in “offering ourselves to God,” Romans 6:13, we are putting ourselves in the care of the only power in the universe who can cure all our ills, and the only power who can give us a life that never ends too (verse 23).      

Is Christianity about being “a good person”?

Following up on last week’s blog, “Discovered; a new species of human,” are there really just two types of people – those who are “dead to God and alive to sin,” and those who are “dead to sin and alive to God”? 

Is there a third group of people, however – those who have no interest in God as yet, but do not give “free rein to their own desires and feelings” (paragraph five in my previous blog)? Instead, they’re really nice people to be around. They’re what we’d call today, “good people,” many of whom do more good works than Christians, love doing good (for both people and the planet), support all kinds of charities, help the poor, respect the marginalized, fight for justice and fairness for all, and don’t demand that everyone bow to their demands and preferences. 

They aren’t “alive to God” yet, but many of them have a happy, loving nature, strong marriages and caring children. They love people, enjoy giving, have lots of friends and enjoy good times together, and they are great neighbours and employers. They work hard, always do a good job, they’re reliable and honest, and they wear masks in pandemics for other people’s sakes. They’re well known for their hospitality and generosity. With no interest in God they “know how to give good gifts to their children” (Matthew 7:11).

Maybe it’s because they grew up in a good family, or that goodness is part of their culture (where people take strangers in without hesitation). Or they’re good because they have a sensitive conscience, or they like helping people because it feels good, or that being good keeps them out of trouble. 

Or is it because the Holy Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” and they’ve unknowingly tuned in to that Spirit? Or is it because an “unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband,” and because of it their children “are holy” too, 1 Corinthians 7:14? Maybe, then, the Holy Spirit is working in them in a special way, and that’s what makes them want to be good. 

Does this make them a third type of person, therefore, who doesn’t have an interest in God as yet, but God is working with them? We know God admires and appreciates goodness in people, like Job (who was “blameless and upright” in God’s sight, Job 1:8), and Cornelius the Roman centurion (“whose prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a remembrance before God,” Acts 10:4). God also appreciates those “who show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness,” Romans 2:15.

But it doesn’t stop there, does it? Job was a good man, yes, but God let Satan loose on him. Cornelius was a “God fearing man, respected by all the Jewish people,” Acts 10:22, but he “also received the Holy Spirit,” verse 47. So his goodness was a good start, yes, but Cornelius needed more. So did Job. And responding to one’s conscience is good too, but if that’s good enough why did God send Jesus to die for us and be raised to life again? 

The answer to that is in Romans 6.

Romans 6 shows us that life for us humans is more than trying to be good and trying not to be bad. It’s more than having good morals. The next chapter, Romans 7, gets into that too, where Paul tells us he tried so hard to be a good person by obeying God’s laws as best he could, but every time he tried to be good there was something in his brain that wanted to resist and do the opposite. Well, God had made that obvious right from the beginning when he said don’t eat off the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because knowing good and knowing evil wouldn’t be enough to resist or stop evil thoughts and evil actions.  

And having conclusively proved that through the sad history of Israel, God then sent Jesus to show us what has to happen to us to solve this problem. We need to be bonded to Jesus in such a way that we die to sin and live to God like he did – which God made possible by having our old weak self killed off and buried along with Jesus’ old self being crucified and buried, and raising us up to a brand new life, just like he raised Jesus up to a brand new life.  

Just like a baptism in water – the analogy Paul uses in Romans 6 – our old self is drowned to death, and we’re given a brand new self in its place. And this brand new self IS able to resist and stop evil thoughts and actions. It becomes an “instrument of righteousness,” Romans 6:14, that “leads to holiness,” verses 19 and 22 – righteous and holy both being what God is. Which means we can “live to God” like Jesus did (verse 10). We actually take on the same characteristics as God himself, which is what God intended for us from the beginning, so that through us he could spread his nature, his wisdom and his greatness all through his creation. This is how he would establish his kingdom of heaven on earth. 

And we come “alive” to all this “in Christ Jesus,” verse 11, and only in Christ Jesus too, because it’s only in our being bonded to his death and resurrection that all this opens up in our brains. It doesn’t come from us trying to be good and trying not to be bad.   

What we need as humans is the ability to die to sin and live to God like Jesus did, because that – and that alone – “results in eternal life,” verse 22. And God provided that for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus – as his “gift” to us, verse 23. 

So, yes, there are only two types of people, or two phases in a human life. We’re either “dead to sin and alive to God,” or “dead to God and alive to sin.” And what makes the difference between the two is the death and resurrection of Jesus, not our goodness. 

Christianity doesn’t boil down to us being good people, then, it boils down to the bond we have with Jesus and his death and resurrection, that God made possible for us as his greatest gift to us. 

Discovered: a new species of human (so desperately needed too)

I gather from Scripture that Jesus’ death caused a monumental jump in our human evolution. It was so great a leap, and so very sudden too, that most of the world missed the completely new species of human that emerged from it. 

But the contrast between the new species of human and the old species of human has been apparent ever since. The contrast is easy to recognize too, because the old and new humans are exact opposites. 

The old version of humanity, for instance, is visibly driven by an engine that, in scriptural terms, is “dead to God, and alive to sin.” The new version of humanity is the total opposite: it’s “dead to sin, and alive to God.” So we now have two species of humans living side by side on this planet with this clear and obvious demarcation separating them. 

Being “dead to God,” for instance, is visibly obvious in one species of human, because there is not the slightest flicker of interest in these humans in what God revealed about himself and his plan in the Old Testament, or what God created humans for. That’s not meant to be a condemnation; it’s just a simple observation. It means, though, that the God of the Bible has no influence over their lives whatsoever. They are “dead” to him, and he is dead to them. 

What excites this version of humanity instead is the free rein and expression of one’s own desires and feelings. It began, as illustrated so colourfully in the story of Adam and Eve, with a choice God offered between two trees, one of which was luscious but deadly, and if eaten off would make humans “alive to sin.” 

And this “coming alive to sin” quickly became apparent too, as both Adam and Eve put self before God and their carefree lives were suddenly filled with guilt, shame, blaming, and wanting to hide from God, and from then on all humanity would be very much “alive to sin” too. All human societies and cultures have experienced a nasty, combative style of living that’s created bullies and victims in every sphere of human endeavour. But would it make us humans want to reject our selfish ways? Unfortunately not.  

And we’re still living in a world deeply influenced by these humans who are “dead to God and alive to sin,” that still believe in putting self before God, despite the historically obvious hazards to one’s mental health and the health of the planet. Worse still, this old species of human has no idea how to reverse or solve its self-destructive ways. So the world careens from one crisis to another, each threatening ever more irreparable and unsolvable damage. 

But also, historically, there’s been evidence of a new version of humanity driven by a different engine, that began with Jesus, who demonstrated very successfully a life that was “dead to sin and alive to God.” And what made that such a monumental leap in our human evolution was his promise to make such a life possible for humans ever since.  

Fifty days after he died his promise came true too, when the engine that powered him was installed in the lives of five thousand people, who visibly and immediately began to display what a life of being “dead to sin and alive to God” was like. As the years progressed a whole list of what they displayed could easily be identified as well, with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.       

And instead of being engrossed with themselves and their own desires and self-image, their minds naturally and easily seek what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable – and with amazing results. They are not anxious about anything, and they have peace and contentment even in impossible situations and circumstances. And God is so real to them too, like a trusted friend. 

One can only wonder, then, what the world could be like if this new species of human takes over. Perhaps it will one day, and then we’ll know. In the meantime, what a discovery it is when finding such people, and what a delight it is to know them, because they are just what this world so desperately needs right now.  

“Alive to God”

Romans 6:11 has intrigued me for ages, because what does it actually mean to be “alive to God”? But there was a clue all along in that verse, that I hadn’t noticed until I started writing this article.

Here’s the verse in full: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The clue was in the last three words, “in Christ Jesus.” And the clue to what that means is in the previous verse, that “the life he (Jesus) lives, he lives to God.” 

So we come alive to God “in Christ Jesus,” because our being “in” him, or united to him, means we can live and experience the same life he lives and experiences. Which is why Paul could say back in verse 11, “In the same way” we can count ourselves alive to God, because Jesus is alive to God, and he raised us up with him so we can now live the same kind of life he lives. We can “live to God” just like Jesus lives to God, therefore, and be “alive to God” just like he’s alive to God.  

But how does that play out in our human lives now? Well, how about the way it played out in Jesus’ human life too? It’s in his childhood, for instance, that we see how “alive to God” he was. He was only twelve years old when he was drawn to the temple, because, as he told his parents in Luke 2:49, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” It was obvious that’s where he’d be, right?  

To someone “alive to God” it was. It’s not surprising, then, that the first chance Jesus gets to attend the Passover in Jerusalem with his parents, and where does he go? To the temple where his Father dwelt.  

And what drew him there? According to verse 40 it was “the grace of God upon him.” So this is what the grace of God does to people; it makes them “alive to God,” irresistibly drawn to him as their Father. 

Twenty years later Jesus was back in the temple too, but this time as an angry man yelling, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?” John 2:16. He was “alive to God” all right, and again because of God being his Father, but look how it played out in his life; he was furious at how the one place on earth where people could make contact with the Father was being treated.

“How dare you do that,” he roared. Which made me wonder how that might play out in my life if I become as “alive to God” as he was. I didn’t have long to find out, though, because I was confronted that very week by a person opposed to male and female being the only genders, and I found myself saying in effect, “How dare you ignore what our Father created us to be?” I was surprised at how infuriated I was. But why shouldn’t I be when the Father of us all created us male and female to fulfill his great purpose for us as the temple in whom he wishes to dwell forever?  

But isn’t that the purpose of the Holy Spirit, to make us alive to our Abba, Father? it’s “because we are sons that God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father,’” Galatians 4:6. The Holy Spirit is inspiring the same “alive to our Father” as he inspired in Jesus. We have the same “Spirit of his Son.” I have to assume, then, that the ways in which Jesus was “alive to God” will spill out in me. 

It might be quite shocking, though, to blurt out to people, “How dare you treat our Father like that?” But why not, when Jesus did? Romans 6:12, the verse right after the “alive to God in Christ” verse, reminded me of that too, where Paul wrote, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” The sin in context here is being more alive to our evil desires than alive to God, like wanting to be accepted by the world and its nutty ideas about gender.  

In all his years of ministry on earth Jesus was always talking about his Father, and at the end of his life he was able to say, “I have made you (Father) known to them” in John 17:26, to which he added, “and I will continue to make you known.” How? Through Christians who are as “alive to God” as he is, who love  to make the Father known as he truly is too.   

“Oh my God, I’m beautiful”

I did wonder about the title too, but that’s what popped to mind when reading Psalm 86 in the Lectionary, which took me to Eugene Peterson’s stirring rendition of Colossians 3:3-4 – “Your new life, which is your real life is with Christ in God….When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up too – the real you, the glorious you.”

One day, in other words, I’ll meet the real me, the fabulous new me Jesus has been moulding ever since God “picked us up and set us down in highest heavens in company with Jesus, our Messiah” (Ephesians 2:6, The Message). I hope it’s not stretching it too far, then, to say we each have two selfs – the old rust bucket we’re stuck in now and the new glorious self Jesus is creating. So I can’t help imagining meeting my beautifully Jesus-crafted self and on seeing it for the first time crying out, “Oh my God, I’m beautiful.” 

It also comes from the typical reaction in people to their car, house or garden being given a total make over by experts, and nearly every time their response is, “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” It amazes me too, what a bunch of colourful characters in a reality TV show like “Rust to Riches” can do with a wreck of a car. They transform it into a shiny, gleaming beauty. “Oh my God” then becomes a rather appropriate reaction, because such an amazing transformation really does seem like a miracle.  

But where does Psalm 86 fit into this picture? Well, to me it adds to “Oh my God” being an appropriate reaction to seeing the Jesus-crafted me, because in verse 1 (The Message) David writes, ”I’m one miserable wretch,” but then in verse 13, “what love! You snatched me from the brink of disaster.” I can relate to that too. Like an old wreck of a car waiting its turn in the crusher (Romans 9:22) I was a miserable pile of unsalvageable junk too, but God gave me to Jesus for a total makeover and I’m now in his reality show of amazing transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

No wonder David wrote in Psalm 86:4, “I put myself in your hands.” To me, that’s like the owner of an old wreck of a car, or a rundown house, or an overgrown weed patch of a garden, happily backing off and handing their wreckage over to the renovating experts, trussing them to do their thing.  

And it’s fortunate that the owner doesn’t get involved, because to begin with it’s not a pretty sight. Car bodywork is ripped off with crowbar and sledge hammer, the insides of a house are ripped out and dumped, and a garden is stripped bare. Nothing but the basic shell is left. 

But what David experienced again and again was being snatched from the brink of disaster and God “putting me back on my feet” (verse 17), and giving him “the strength to go on” (verse 16) – a miraculous transformation by God every time David trusted him. If “Oh my God” had been a familiar expression of amazement back then, I imagine David would have said it too. 

It springs so naturally to mind today as well, when the owner of the renovated house, car or garden is led in to the see the final product. Eyes open wide in amazement, or fill with tears, followed by a great shout of joy or weepy emotion, “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” 

Are they ever glad, then, that they “put themselves in the hands” of the experts and trusted them. 

But that’s how Jesus’ reality show works too. He’ll do the transformation and all he asks of us is to trust in his skill and expertise. No matter how battered our old rust bucket self is, he’s creating a marvel out of us, so that one day not only do we say, “Oh my God, that’s beautiful,” so does the world (1 John 3:2). 

But that’s our Jesus for you; he loves a reality show too. The Message translation of Psalm 86:17 ties in rather nicely with that as well, in David saying, “Make a show of how much you love me” – a “show,” take note – because that’s exactly what God gave us to Jesus for, to show in our transformation just how great he intended us humans to be when he created us.    

“You have got to be kidding”

A while ago I was given four more churches to pastor, bringing my grand total to seven congregations in an area larger than all of Great Britain, and just two local elders to help me out too, both of whom were filly employed elsewhere.  

I responded with wide-eyed disbelief, followed by fits of coughing and spluttering, and when speech returned a strangled cry of, “You have got to be kidding” – that wonderfully protective measure against exploding into small pieces, or rolling about on the floor in such helpless mirth it needs paramedic intervention to restore normal breathing.  

Historically, though, I had scriptural support for responding like I did, thanks to Sarah’s snorts of derision on hearing she’d be giving birth to a son in her old age in Genesis 18:12. Whatever the Hebrew equivalent was for “You’ve got to be kidding,” she was thinking it.    

Three chapters later, however, the laugh was on her, because in Genesis 21:2 she “bore a son at the very time God had promised.” And Sarah, to her credit, saw the funny side of it too: “God has brought me laughter,” she cried in verse 6, ”and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” – Abraham being the first to laugh with her, because he named the boy, “Chuckles,” or Isaac as we know him, Isaac meaning “laughter.”  

So why did God do this to Sarah? And what about all the other things God does that might seem utterly ludicrous to us? What was he thinking, for instance, when he made the fruit of the tree that would kill so delicious looking? And why did he create a crafty creature to entice Adam and Eve into eating it too? 

The rest of the Old Testament provides atheists with all sorts of excuses to scoff as well, like the gathering of two (or more) of every creature and fitting them all on one boat. Or God having his Son killed by those he came to save, and then putting together a church from “lowly and despised things” that make us Christians seem like a joke at times too. 

Apparently, God likes the ludicrous and laughable, including why a shy kid from a tiny village in England would end up pastoring seven churches in an area larger than the entire country he grew up in. 

It still makes me shake my head as to why God works this way, but, silly me, he gave the reason why in Romans 9. It’s in Paul’s answer to why God made Sarah wait until her old age to have a son too. 

It’s because he loves making promises that only he can fulfill. The only reason Sarah ended up with a child, for instance, was because God promised it. Or as Paul phrased it in Romans 9:8, “it isn’t children born by natural human reproduction who are God’s children, it is the children of the promise” – the promise being verse 9, that “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

In other words, when God promises something utterly ludicrous to our minds that make us scoff and snort, he gets the last laugh as he watches our amazement and embarrassment when he pulls it off.  

This was a wonderfully freeing revelation for me, because I admit to often snorting with derision at what we present to the public as the Christian church. What a joke we are to people with our odd traditions and rituals. I can’t help thinking at times I’m in the middle of a Monty Python skit. But no matter how ludicrous or laughable that I, or anybody else, thinks the Christian church is, God gets the last laugh, because “At the appointed time he will return, and the church will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4).” 

How embarrassing, then, for all those who scoffed and snorted in derision at the antics, foibles and glaring faults of the Christian church. But hopefully, like Sarah, we can all share in one great universal belly laugh one day at what God has managed to pull off despite us. 

“You have got to be kidding,” we all yell. “How did he do it?”

“The life of the Trinity actually comes to life in the church? How?”

First of all, Jesus came to bring the life of the Trinity to life in himself. We get a jolly good peek, therefore, into how God operates as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the human life of Jesus. We see God actually come to life in human terms in him.  

So, why, then, did Jesus create a church too, or why the need for a church as well when he’d already illustrated the life of God in his own human life?

Because the life of the Trinity is now meant to come to life in our human lives too. Every large or little cell group in Jesus’ church is now the means by which others see the life of the Trinity “come to life.” 

Jesus made that clear in his John 17 prayer to his Father. First he says to the Father in verse 6, “I have revealed you to those (disciples) whom you gave me out of the world,” and in verse 7, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you,” because everything Jesus said and did was a perfect illustration of his Father and their life together. And Jesus’ first disciples eventually got that (verse 8).  

Now it was their turn to illustrate the life of God as Father and Son, verse 11, so “they (my disciples) may be one as we (Father and Son) are one,” as Jesus phrased it. In the disciples now the life and relationship of the Father and Son would come to life. And the way that would be done, verse 17, would be the Father “sanctifying them by the truth,” the same truth God had revealed about himself through Jesus. The lives of Jesus’ disciples, therefore, would now be “sanctified” or set apart for the same purpose as Jesus’ life, to reveal life as God lives it. 

This is why Jesus sanctified himself (verse 19), or set apart his own life as a human, to make the life of the Trinity come alive so that his disciples would be perfectly set up for the same thing happening in their lives. His disciples would gradually come to see this is why the Father had sent him, first to illustrate the life of the Trinity through Jesus’ life, and secondly to follow that up through his disciples illustrating the life of the Trinity in their lives together in the church (verses 20-23). 

And I get that too, but how does it play out in our large and little churches today?   

Well, it’s clearly not by anything that I do on my own human initiative or strength, because Jesus finishes off his John 17 prayer where he began it back in verse 6, when he says in verse 26, “I have made you known to them,” but then he says, “and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them,” meaning it’s the Father’s love, not our own love, that illustrates the life of the Trinity. That’s because we can’t do what we’ve been called as the church to do, which Jesus obviously knew as well when he then says, “and that I myself may be in them.”

That is such a huge relief hearing him say that, at least it is for me, because I’m not a naturally loving person, thanks to all twelve years of my childhood being spent in loveless English boarding schools. I’ve grown up preferring dogs to people. But here I have Jesus’ great wish and prayer for me that he’ll live his life of love in me. He can and will, therefore, bring to life the truth of what God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit for me, as well as in me.

And I’ve seen that in how ever so gradually my life as a minister has been changing from simply teaching the Bible as my paid duty in a denomination to finding myself totally committed to two tiny churches seven years beyond my retirement age. But it’s worth every minute, because what if we experience and demonstrate the life of the Trinity so well that “the world may (also) believe that the Father sent Jesus” in verse 21? In other words, people outside our cell groups also see in us why the Father sent Jesus, as they see the love the Father has for his Son lived out in us, and therefore the love the Father will now live in them too, so they can share in it just as we have.  

So what God is making possible through our little gatherings of Christians is remarkable. And to think that my children and grandchildren can see it too, through the life of the Trinity coming to life in me and the Christian group I’m part of. 

It’s certainly concentrated my life on God making all this real, in my old age too, because Jesus did pray in John 17 that his disciples would have an impact, and on that I depend. 

”I want to make a real difference in this world, but how?”

My eldest granddaughter just returned from supporting a “Black Lives Matter” march, because she wants to change the world – or better put, she wants to change “her” world, because she doesn’t like the world she’s found herself in, and what it’s doing to her and to others. Not one bit.   

So she writes passionate articles too, against the irrational behaviour of people she believes should know better. High School also taught her how awful her own age group can be when they discover the power they have to wreck the lives and relationships of their class mates. So she’s really fired up. 

Her mother, meanwhile, is all for her daughter’s passion, but hopes she won’t go overboard with it, because it could turn into bitterness or disillusionment, or worse, into violent protest and jail, if her fired up girl doesn’t get the results she’s after. 

It’s a dilemma for both of them, which got me thinking about what the Holy Spirit was given for on Pentecost in the book of Acts. Was it to change the world? 

Just one chapter earlier, in Acts 1:8, Jesus told his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,” which sounds like Christians would be making a real difference in the world. And that would include the children of Christians, because the promise of the Holy Spirit “is for you and your children” too, in Acts 2:39. 

So imagine telling my granddaughter: “Hey, kiddo, even Jesus promised you real power.” But real power to do what? Would she take the promise of power to mean getting into politics in a big way, or becoming a passionate lawyer fighting for justice, or going on massive protest marches to force change? And is that what Jesus meant too?

But history is chock full of people who are sick of the world they’re living in and they’ve tried to force change by revolution and violence. That was the Jews’ approach to getting rid of the Romans thirty years after Pentecost, which resulted in a horrific backlash from the Romans in 70 A.D.  

So what was this gift of the Holy Spirit for, and the power attached to it? 

Peter’s immediate answer to that in Acts 2:40, just after the Holy Spirit was given. was to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” It wasn’t, “Now you and your kids have the power to change the world,” because that’s been tried by many Christians, but the world’s problems continue. Good is being done all over the world, yes, but a virus pandemic or economic collapse can undo years of progress, and remind us that even the best of human initiative and good intentions can only do so much. Meanwhile, hundreds of issues remain unsolved and unsolvable.  

So what was the power of the Holy Spirit given for? 

Again, it’s Peter who answers, this time in 2 Peter 1:4, when he writes, “Through God’s great and precious promises you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil human desires.”

And there, my dear granddaughter, is the great news of how real change happens, and how you can make a real difference in your world. And it’s the same answer Peter gave back on Pentecost too. And again, it’s not by human passion, revolution, or writing scathing articles exposing the world’s ills. That’s not where changing the world begins, my girl; it begins with a change in you. And it’s a change that enables you personally to “escape the corruption” caused by unsolvable human greed, lust and – as Adam and Eve demonstrated – our innate ability to self-destruct.

And how does that change in you happen? It’s in that “great and precious promise” of the Holy Spirit so you can share in God’s very own nature, and it’s totally his gift to you for simply believing this is what he sent Jesus to set up for us. And by what that divine nature does in you, you then “witness” to such power being available and what it’s for, just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8. 

What impact that now has on you and the people who know you, will create a ripple of change in their lives and yours, and who knows how far that ripple will spread? It won’t change the whole world, but it will make a real difference in the world where you are. So let that fire up your engine and see where it takes you….