The promise…

Of the Spirit (part 2) 

Jesus made an amazing promise in John 7:37-38, when he shouted out to those gathered in the temple courts on the last day of the eight day autumn festival: “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink, because – like Scripture said – anyone believing in me will have rivers of living water flowing from within them.” 

John later adds to that in verse 39, “By that he meant the Spirit, that all those who believed in him would receive,” but at the time Jesus did not explain that. There was enough in what he said, however, to really catch their attention.  

Like the first sentence, “If anyone is thirsty” – because in their climate, thirst was ever present. As one author wrote: “Water is always an attractive word in the East. But at the time when Jesus uttered this saying it would have an effect that was almost magical. It was in the autumn weather, when the sun had been shining in fierceness for months, and the barren ground was crying out for rain…” 

It was Jesus’ timing too, because the autumn festival was their annual reminder of the water that flowed from the rock in their wilderness wanderings, picturing their long-awaited, promised Messiah who would provide streams in the desert and an outpouring of his Holy Spirit on all who would believe. And here on this very occasion picturing all that, Jesus was saying, “If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink,” a clear claim that he was that Rock that those in the wilderness drank from, which Paul later spoke of in 1 Corinthians 10:4, that “They all drank of the Spiritual Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”  

So imagine being there as the chief priests led a procession to the pool of Siloam, where a golden pitcher from the Temple was filled with water and carried back to the Temple altar where the water was poured out as a thank offering and a choir sang the Scriptures Jesus was referring to, like Isaiah 12:2-3, “Surely God is my salvation…With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” and Joel 3:18, “A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house,” plus Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Zechariah 14:6-9 too, all of which spoke of the living waters that would flow with the arrival of the Messiah to satisfy the deepest and most pressing thirst that all we humans have…(more on this tomorrow)

The promise…

Of the Spirit 

In one sense it must have been frustrating for Jesus to have to quit his earthly ministry just when his disciples were beginning to grasp what he was all about (John 16:29-30). 

But his ministry was about to “up” to a whole new level, when he told his disciples in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” 

Jesus’ ministry, therefore, would be continuing through another living Being he calls the Paraclete, which John later translates as Advocate. It can also mean Comforter, Strengthener, and Helper, because Jesus wants his disciples to know that “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” verse 18. But not come to them in his own person; instead it would be “the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, who will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” verse 26. It would still be Jesus’ teachings, but taught to them now by the Spirit.

The Spirit, then, would take over the work that Jesus had been doing with his disciples. And the Spirit would be desperately needed too, because the disciples were fine when Jesus was with them, but when he was gone they fell apart. So Jesus wants them to know that this Spirit will be “another” (verse 16) – the Greek meaning “another of the same kind” – just like himself. The Spirit, therefore, would do for them what Jesus had done for them, only much, much better, because the Spirit will be “with you forever,” always present in their lives, “for he lives with you and will be in you,” verse 17.

It would be like having Jesus with them for the rest of their lives, continuing to teach them as he always had, so they’d come to know more and more about him (16:14-15) and sense more and more his immense love for them too (14:21). Which, of course, is what we can expect too, because as Jesus said to his disciples back in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” and straight after that he tells them about the Spirit they will receive. So anyone taking Jesus’ teachings seriously are promised the same Spirit for the rest of their lives too…(more about this tomorrow…)

The promise…

To us (part 6)

Because of Christ’s death God has flung the doors open to a new relationship with him – which, Romans 5:1-2, promises three things: first of all, peace with God. Secondly, absolute confidence in approaching him. And thirdly, using the Phillips translation, “happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future.” So the three things promised are peace, confidence and certainty.  

Peace and confidence have been covered previously, but what about this “certainty” bit? Can we really know for certain what God “has for us in the future”? But didn’t Jesus also say in John 16:13, that “when the Spirit of truth comes….he will tell you what is yet to come”?  

According to Jesus, then, we are now part of a new world where the future is known, and we can know it too. But what does the future “yet to come” revolve around? Jesus made that clear in verse 14, that the Spirit of truth “will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”  

This certainty about the future and what is to come, therefore, revolves around coming to know what Jesus is all about. Because, quoting one writer, “No man has ever grasped all that Jesus came to say. No man has fully worked out all the significance of his teaching for life and for belief, for the individual and for the world, for society and for the nation.” 

The Holy Spirit’s job, therefore, is to constantly open up and expand the truth about Jesus. Because that is the future “yet to come” for all of us: it’s coming to know Jesus for real, so that we’re left in no doubt what he’s up to, what his motives are, what his end goal is, what he thinks of us, what he’s head of the Church for, what his teachings mean, what glorious things he has in mind for us when he returns, and how it all fits in exactly with his Father’s plan and purpose through and for him.  

And it’s the Spirit’s job to make all this come to life for us. So that’s what we can expect to happen in the future for the rest of our lives, then. It means a constant revelation by the Spirit of things just waiting to be discovered about “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18. No wonder Paul wrote back in Romans 5:2 that we “rejoice,” because here we are now, already experiencing our future…(more on this tomorrow)

The promise…

To us (part 5)

“Since it’s by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future,“ Romans 5:1-2 (Phillips).

This is the new life that has opened up to us because we’re justified and our relationship with God has been restored. But don’t just believe it, Paul is saying, “confidently enter it” too. We have now “gained access” (as the NIV phrases it in verse 2) into this new relationship with God. The doors have been flung open, so in we can go.  

And we can enter this new relationship with confidence, because it doesn’t depend on anything we do or don’t do. Paul calls it “the gift of God” (verses 15 and 16). Even our belief was given to us by God. So God made absolutely sure our relationship being restored with him is all his doing. And his reason for making sure it’s all his doing was (and is) to “demonstrate his love for us,” verse 8. And what better way of demonstrating his love for us than “Christ dying for us while we were yet sinners” (verse 8)? 

Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” And it’s on that statement that “we take our stand,” as Phillips phrased it in Romans 5:2. It’s because of the death of his Son that we can state with absolute confidence that God loves us, and our relationship with him has been totally restored. 

It’s this same confidence that Paul talks about in Ephesians 3:11, that God’s “eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” was (and is), verse 12, to enable us to “approach him with freedom and confidence.” 

And with that same stand in mind the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help us in our hour of need.” Because we can do that now, and in total confidence, because of this new relationship that God has gifted us with…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

To us (part 4)

So, what is this new life that opens up to us because we’re justified? Paul answers that in the very next verse after Romans 4:25

Romans 4 ends with that verse, but Paul carries right on into Romans 5 as if there are no chapter breaks between chapters 4 and 5, because he opens verse 1 with “Therefore…”

And it ties right in with the previous verse, which Paul makes clear right off the bat by writing, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith” – or since we understood and believed our relationship with God has been restored and set to rights – “we (now) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom,” verse 2, “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” 

So, first of all, this new life we enter is about “peace with God.” Peace because, for no works or efforts or good deeds on our part, or by trying to make up for our lousy lives in any way, God totally restored our relationship with him for us simply believing Jesus did all the works and good deeds and making up for our lousy lives in himself. 

It was “While we were yet sinners, that Christ died for us,” verse 8. Christ didn’t wait to see if we were repentant or making some sort of effort to be good. He died for us at our worst. We were already “justified by his blood,” verse 9, while we lived our rotten lives. With that knowledge in mind, then, Paul adds in verse 9, “Well, since we’ve been justified by his blood, that means we’ve been saved from God’s wrath through him too.” 

So, never again do we have to wonder if God is angry at us. Because he isn’t. And no more wondering if God can love such a walking ruin like us. Because he does. And no more wondering if God accepts us after the way we lived for so many years, because, verse 10, “when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – reconciled meaning “relationship restored.” 

And the reason God did that for us was verse 11, that we’d “rejoice in him through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

To us (part 3)

Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 2 that we would never have come to belief in God’s promise of justification on our own. And what a pity if God had allowed that to continue, because we would never have experienced the goal of justification, which is finding ourselves, just as Abram did, revelling in God’s greatness – and not out of obligation either, but because we can’t help it. 

And why can’t we help it? It’s because “God, in his great love for us and in the riches of his mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” verses 4-5. We were totally dead, as “dead” as Sarai, Abram’s wife, who’d never been able to have children. But God brought Sarai’s reproductive capacity to life, so the two of them could experience for themselves what happens when God promises the impossible. 

Because that’s how God worked to make his greatness real to Abram. He brought the dead to life. And Abram was the first to experience that, making him “our father in the sight of God” – the father, that is, of all those who also experience “God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were,” Romans 4:17.  

Because that’s how God works with us to make his greatness real to us too: he produces a new life in us that we could never create ourselves, just like Sarai’s body couldn’t produce new life either. But in God’s mind he was calling her what she wasn’t yet – a mother – as though she was one already, because of his promise to her, in the same way that he calls us “justified” – the very thing we had no right to be called either – as though we are, and all because of what he promised us in his Son. 

And now we get to experience that promise coming alive, just like Abram and Sarai experienced God’s promise of a child coming alive for them. Bringing impossible promises to life is how God works, which in our case is the promise of justification, bringing a life dead to God to being alive with Christ. 

Justification is the birth of a new life in us, just like the birth of new life in Sarai, so that we find our selves revelling in God’s greatness, just like Abram did…(more on this tomorrow) 

The promise…

To us (part 2)

It’s amazing how God gave credit to Abraham for not “weakening (or wavering) in his belief in God’s promise,” Romans 4:19-20, when it was only because of God “strengthening his faith that Abraham was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he promised,” verses 20-21. No wonder Abraham “gave glory to God,” not only in God making such an amazing promise to him in the first place, but in giving him the strength to fully believe it too. 

It was all God’s doing, from the initial promise to Abraham believing it. But God, amazingly, gives Abraham the credit for believing. What did Abraham contribute to this process? Absolutely nothing. And it didn’t make him a better person for believing either. His belief didn’t suddenly make him a righteous man, which we see in the many mistakes he made later in Genesis. 

So what was God up to here? He makes a promise, enables Abraham to believe it, and then credits Abraham with righteousness. Why, though? What did it accomplish? 

Paul answers that for us in Romans 4:20 – Abraham “gave glory to God.” That was the goal. It’s what being “credited with righteousness” means too; it means “setting one’s relationship with God to rights.” Well, that’s what happened to Abraham through the process God took him through – from a standing start in Genesis 11, with no record of Abraham knowing much about God at all, to being swept away by God’s greatness. From Abraham possibly having no opinion of God, to revelling in him. 

So is this the process God takes us through? Yes, it’s meant for us too (Romans 4:24). So out of the blue, just as it was for Abraham, we got to hear about God’s promise of justification – that our relationship with God has been set to rights through Christ’s death and resurrected life. 

But why did we take any notice of it, let alone believe it? Because, Ephesians 2:8, “it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this (faith) not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Just as God strengthened Abraham’s faith, he strengthens ours, enough for us to be fully persuaded that God has the power to fulfill the same goal he had for Abraham in us. That from a standing start we too, knowing little about God, end up giving glory to him as well…(more on this tomorrow)  

The promise…

To us (part 1)

So if believing in God’s promises is the key to our relationship with God being ‘set to rights’ – what promises did God make that he wants us to believe in?

Paul answers that in Romans 4:24, that we’re “credited with righteousness” – our relationship with God is set to rights – for “believing in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,” because in that is God’s promise to us, verse 25, that “Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” 

The promise for us, then, is justification, and being credited with righteousness for believing it. And true to God’s nature, it’s a legally binding promise too, because “justification” here is a legal term – so imagine a court case where someone, who is anything but righteous, is hauled before the judge for a verdict. And the judge replies, “This person believes that Jesus was delivered over to death for his sins, so before God he is legally declared justified, case dismissed.”

So the man entered the court with a ton of evidence that, before God, he deserved to die. But he left the court with a clean slate, none of his past life held against him, his non-existent relationship with God restored, and as a free man given a fresh new life to live. 

Which is what the judge picks up on next, because he says to the man (now credited with righteousness, his relationship with God set to rights) – “You realize there’s more to justification, right? You did well believing that Jesus’ death gave you a fresh start, but do you realize – and believe – what Jesus was raised back to life for too?”  

“Because,” the judge continues, “how are you going to live a good life in future? I’m sure you’d agree that having your case dismissed today didn’t suddenly make you a righteous person. You’ve got a long way to go before you’re anywhere close to becoming as righteous as Christ. But if you believe Christ was raised back to life to help you become like him, and he’s as totally committed to doing that for you as he was to Abram in his old age having a son, that too will be credited to you as righteousness. That will probably be harder for you to believe, though – but God strengthened Abram’s belief in his promise, and he’ll strengthen your faith too”…(more on this tomorrow)   

The promise…

To Abraham (part 3)

God made an amazing promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3, that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” starting with Abram’s very own son and heir – which made the promise even more amazing, because Abram didn’t have any children and he was already in his 70’s. 

“Yet,” Romans 4:20-21, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he promised.” For which, verse 22, “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 

So God had a clear purpose in going this route, promising a childless old man he would have children, and then strengthening the man’s belief in that promise so he’d be “fully persuaded” in God being able to fulfill it. 

So what was God’s purpose, then? According to verse 16, it was to set up Abram as “the father of us all.” Meaning, this is the route God is taking all of us. This is how Abram would have many children, not only in physical descendants, but also in millions of people being strengthened in their belief in God’s promises and his power to fulfill those promises, just like God did for him. 

The result being many millions of Abram’s “children” being “credited with righteousness” just like he was. Abram was simply the first to be given unwavering belief in the God of promises and “it was credited to him as righteousness,” verse 22 – but, verses 23-24, “The words ‘It was credited to him as righteousness’ were written not for him alone, but also for us.”

So in Abram God was setting up a pattern, a process, that would show us humans how he would view us as righteous in his sight. Which surely is the most important piece of information we humans need to know, because our view of God and our relationship with him has been abysmal. But now we see in Abram how God has ‘set us all to rights’ – or credited us with righteousness – by us simply believing he’s a God who fulfills his promises. 

And God will strengthen our belief in that, because in us he’s proving his promise to Abram is true, that he did have many children, who just like him are being credited with righteousness for their belief as well…(more on this tomorrow)   

The promise…

To Abraham (part 2)

Ten years of waiting for God to fulfill his promise in Genesis 12:7 to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring – and still no offspring. So it looked like Eliezer, born into Abram’s household, was the ‘son and heir’ God had in mind. But “Not so,” says God, “a son coming from your own body will be your heir,” Genesis 15:4

Think that’s impossible, Abram? Then come outside, look up and count all the stars you can see, because if I can make all those stars possible, it’s just as possible for me to make as many offspring for you too. So quit looking for shortcut solutions for a son and heir down here, Abram, and look up. The power that made those stars is your solution.   

And Abram gets the point, thanks to God giving him the assurance he lacked. It’s what “believed” means in verse 6. Abraham “believed” God, the Hebrew word meaning certainty, like knowing for certain you can lean your whole weight on something and it will hold, like lake ice, or a fallen tree bridging a stream. 

Or in Abram’s case, that he could lean his whole weight on God’s promise to give him a son, and it would hold. And of course it would hold. If God could create thousands of stars he could create thousands of children. And in Abram’s mind that was enough. 

But it was God who got him to this point, and enabled him to believe. So why did he do that for Abram? Because (verse 6 still) in “Abram believing the Lord, he was credited with righteousness.” For believing in God being a God of promises, with the commitment and power to make his promises happen, Abram was the first human in history to be considered righteous for his belief. And that was a pivotal moment for all humanity, because it set in concrete all through the rest of Scripture and human history The Great Promise from the God of promises, that anyone following Abram’s example of belief would also be considered righteous.

But what’s so great about being credited with righteousness? Because that’s what God wants for all of us, the chance to get “back to rights” with him, so we can experience getting back to what he created us for. And where that begins for us is the same place it began for Abram, being faced with amazing promises that God enables us to believe too…(more on this tomorrow)