Come alive!

A radical change is expected and required when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. When no change becomes apparent, we begin to wonder if there has been a genuine conversion or if the one who was truly saved understands God’s Word concerning sanctification and discipleship.

 

Those who can identify with the agony of Paul in Romans 7 will rejoice with him in the ecstasy of Romans 8. Do you desire to serve God and to obey His commands and yet find it impossible to do so? If not, then you should go back to the beginning of Romans and start reading again. Either you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you fail to understand what God requires, or you do not see the futility and inadequacy of merely human effort. But if you have come to that point of despair of which Paul speaks, then you have come to the point of dependence upon God. Read on, my friend. There is more good news for you. The solution to your problem is now the topic under discussion in Romans 8.

Let us look to the Holy Spirit, of whom theses verses speak, to enlighten our minds concerning those things which we would never grasp apart from His divine illumination (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

 

No Condemnation
(8:1-4)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Paul’s condition, as described in the last half of Romans 7, was agonizing and frustrating. With his mind, he served God, but with his flesh he served the law of sin (7:25). Paul’s dilemma is two-fold. First, there is the matter of his sins, committed as a Christian. Second, there is the problem of righteousness. What can deliver him from his sins? What can enable him to be righteous? Verses 1-4 deal primarily with the first problem and briefly allude to the second, discussed more fully in verses 5-11.

 

Paul’s first problem was that of his sin and of the condemnation which sin brings upon sinners. The solution to the problem of sin Paul describes here may be summarized in this way: For all who are in Christ, by faith, there is no condemnation for sin, but rather the condemnation of sin in the flesh.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:1-4 is fundamental to the Christian life. The Christian need not be overcome by guilt or by fear, due to his sins. The cross of Jesus Christ is the solution from sin and its condemnation, for all who are justified by faith. The death which Christ died was for all of the sins of the one who receives His work, by faith. Pre-Christian sins and post-conversion sins are covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is no license to sin, as Paul shows in Romans 6, but it is the assurance that through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ Christians have been delivered from divine condemnation. The forgiveness of sins Paul describes in Romans 3:21–4:25 applies to all the sins of the one who trusts in Christ.

There is no condemnation! What a wonderful truth to the ears of every believer. But there is more. The death of Christ has delivered us from condemnation. While our Lord’s death at Calvary delivered us from condemnation, it also delivered sin to condemnation. In Christ, God condemned sin. God condemned sin in the flesh. The flesh was sin’s stronghold. It was the “handle” which sin found by which to lay hold of us and to bring us under condemnation. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, He came in the flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. And when He suffered the wrath of God and the penalty of death in the flesh, sin was condemned in the flesh. In that very realm of the flesh, in which it seemed sin could not be defeated, God overpowered sin, condemning it in the flesh. Because of Jesus Christ, we are not condemned. Because of Him, sin is condemned, and in the flesh. For the Christian, the shackles of sin are surely broken.

 

Paul’s first problem is that of sin and its consequences. The second problem is that of righteousness. The sin which Paul wished to avoid, he committed, in the flesh. The righteousness which Paul desired to practice, Paul avoided, due to his flesh. The problem was with his flesh. With his mind he could serve God, but in his flesh he could not produce the fruit of righteousness. If sin dominated him through his flesh, then something greater than him must empower him to live righteously in his fleshly body. The solution is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The problem was not with the Law and its requirement. The “Law is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The flesh is simply not able to achieve what the Law requires (for reasons Paul is about to spell out in 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit is able to empower us to do that which the Law required (8:4). The righteousness of God is accomplished, not by walking according to the flesh, but rather by walking according to the Spirit. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by the flesh, but it can be accomplished by means of the Spirit of God. Paul is soon to explain how and why this is so.

 

The foundation for Christian living, living righteously, has been laid in verses 1-4. The Christian is not under condemnation because he is in Christ Jesus, who bore the penalty for all our sins. Sin is under condemnation, through the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness which the Law requires and which we find impossible to achieve, God achieves in and through the Christian, through the prompting of and power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has delivered us from the penalty and the power of sin.

Not by Means of the Flesh, but by His Spirit
(8:5-11)

The truth Paul gives in verse 4, which he explains in verses 5-11, is not new. Centuries earlier, the Lord told the prophet Zechariah: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

God’s work is never accomplished by human effort but only by divine enablement. It has always been this way.

The righteousness which the Law requires cannot be realized by walking according to the flesh, but only by walking according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 are devoted to explaining and illustrating this truth, so that Christians will forsake seeking to please God by means of the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. Verses 5-11 give us two sides of one coin. Verses 5-8 explain why it is impossible to please God by means of the flesh. Verses 9-11 explain why it is possible to please God by means of His Spirit.

THE FUTILITY OF WALKING ACCORDING TO THE FLESH (5-8)

5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The futility of walking according to the flesh is spelled out in these verses. The conclusion to Paul’s argument, developed in verses 5-8, is stated in verse 8:

THOSE WHO ARE IN THE FLESH CANNOT PLEASE GOD.

The basis for this conclusion is developed in verses 5-7. Here, Paul gives us three reasons why it is impossible for those in the flesh to please God. Let us consider each of these reasons.

First, those who are “according to the flesh” have their minds set on the flesh. They have a one-track mind. They are like an AM radio which can receive only signals on this band. FM signals are not received and cannot be. The spiritual dimension of life—that unseen realm which is only grasped by the enablement of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and which can only be believed by faith (Hebrews 11:1)—is only perceived by those who are in the realm of the Spirit, by faith in Jesus Christ. Those who are “according to the Spirit” have their minds tuned to the things of God and to His Spirit.175

 

If a Christian is walking “according to the flesh,” his mind will not be on spiritual things but only on earthly things. When Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His death on the cross, our Lord rebuked him for having his mind set on the flesh:

“Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33).

Jesus’ words here also make it evident that Peter’s fleshly mindset was a reflection of Satan’s views and values.

In verse 6 Paul gives the second reason why those who are in the flesh cannot please God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” It took me a long time to take the verb is seriously. Elsewhere Paul tells us that sin leads to death, and righteousness leads to life. Here Paul says that the mind set on the flesh is death. There is a significant difference between that which leads to death and that which is, in and of itself, death. God’s wrath is both present (Romans 1:18) and future (Romans 2:5). God’s salvation likewise has a past, present and a future dimension (Romans 5:1-11). So too death is both present and future. Death is much more than physical death. Death is separation from God. The fleshly mind is so alienated from God that those whose minds are set on the flesh are dead, alienated from God, limited only to the physical world and their distorted perception of it.

 

Third, those who are in the flesh are not merely ignorant of God and unaware of His existence; they are actively hostile toward God and toward His Law (verse 7). Fallen men hate God, they reject His authority, and they resist His Word:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

 

Those who are unsaved are “in the flesh,” and as those in the flesh they serve Satan, in mind and body. They may not consciously serve Satan, but they do consciously seek to indulge their flesh, fulfilling its lusts. And in so doing, they reject God and rebel against Him.

No wonder it is impossible for anyone to please God by walking according to the flesh. The flesh cannot and will not comprehend the things of the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The flesh hates God and rebels against His authority and His Law. And even if unsaved men wished to do right, they could not do so.

Consider these illustrations. Serving God in the flesh is like trying to manufacture sophisticated silicon computer chips in a garbage dump, rather than in a “clean room.” Pleasing God in the flesh is as impossible as trying to train a wolf to be a sheep dog. Being righteous in the power of the flesh is like trying to teach a corpse to dance. It simply cannot be done.

Now we know why Paul was not able, in the flesh, to keep God’s Law, even though in his mind he agreed with it and desired to obey it. Now we know why those who would fulfill the requirement of the Law cannot do so by walking “according to the flesh.” Let us next turn to verses 9-11, where Paul explains why those who walk according to the Spirit can fulfill the requirement of the Law and so please God.

 

IN THE STRENGTH OF HIS SPIRIT (9-11)

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.

How different is Paul’s approach to the spiritual life from that of many today. Paul does not seek to motivate Christians by questioning their salvation or by suggesting that, by sin, they can lose it. He does not suggest that unspiritual living is the result of failing to possess the Spirit but bases his teaching on the certainty that every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit. And he does not appeal to guilt or fear but to grace and assurance. Chapters 5 and 8 especially underscore this. Paul assumes that his readers are genuine Christians. If they have been justified by faith, then they have the Spirit dwelling within. If they do not possess the Spirit, then they cannot be saved. Christians, according to Paul, do not need to receive the Spirit, but to respond to the Spirit, in faith and obedience for assurance, guidance, empowerment, and a host of other ministries.

 

Paul, and every Christian, faces two problems as dealt with in our text: first, the problem of sin; second, the problem of righteousness. Our problem with sin is that we do it. Our problem with righteousness is that we do not, and cannot, do it. God solved the first problem by condemning sin in the flesh through the death of our Lord at Calvary. Now, in verses 9-11, Paul tells us how God has provided the solution for the second problem.

 

God’s Law reveals the standard of righteousness. The Law tells us what righteousness is like. The Christian agrees with the Law of God, that it is “holy, righteous, and good.” The problem is the strength of sin and the weakness of our flesh. As Paul has shown in verses 5-8, the flesh cannot please God. God has provided the means for Christians to live in a way that enables them to fulfill the requirement of the Law and to please God. God’s provision—for Christians only—is the power of His Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian.

 

The flesh is dead, because of sin. But the Spirit is alive, living within us, so that righteousness will result. The Spirit, who indwells every true believer, is the same Spirit who raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead (verse 11). Our problem, as Paul says in Romans 7:24, is “the body of this death.” Our bodies, which are dead due to sin, so far as doing that which is righteous, the Spirit will raise to life, as He raised the body of our Lord to life. And so the problem of righteousness has been solved. We cannot, by the flesh, please God and do that which is righteous. We can, by means of the Spirit, fulfill the requirement of the Law and please God.

 

And so the two problems (1) of sin and (2) of righteousness have been solved, by God, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There is no condemnation for sin for all who are in Christ, by faith. Sin, on the other hand, has been condemned in the flesh. The righteousness which we could not do, because of the deadness of our fleshly bodies, God accomplishes through His Spirit, who raises dead bodies to life.

The Implications of Paul’s
Teaching in 
Romans 8:1-11

Romans 8:12-17 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

In verses 12-17 Paul applies the principles he has just taught in verses 1-11. The application to Paul’s teaching is given in verse 12. Verses 13-17 provide the support for the application.Verse 17 serves both as a conclusion to verses 12-17, as well as an introduction to Paul’s next topic, sonship, suffering, and glory, discussed in verses 18-30.

Paul gives his readers no specific commands. He lays down no rules. After all, the Law has set the standard. Those things which Paul will lay down as specific applications find their biblical basis in the Law (see Romans 13:8-10). Instead, he speaks of the Christian’s obligations. Paul’s words in verse 12 inform us that we have no obligation to serve the flesh and strongly imply that we do have an obligation to serve God in the Spirit. This reiterates what he has already taught in verse 4 and explained in verses 5-11: We shall fulfill the requirement of the Law when we walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

One thing has puzzled me as I have attempted to understand Paul’s words in verse 12: Why does he apply his teaching by speaking to his reader in terms of obligations? Why not duty? Why not obedience? Why obligations? I think I am beginning to understand what he means. We feel obligated to another only when we believe they have done something for us. “One good turn deserves another,” we say. When someone does us a favor, we feel obligated to them. When someone does us harm, we do not feel an obligation at all. Traveling overseas offers an illustration of this. When a car comes to an intersection and has to wait for a moment, a man may very well push through the crowd, get out his small array of equipment, and begin to wash your windshield. When he has finished, he hopes you will feel obligated enough to him to give him some money. We feel obligated when someone has rendered us a service.

Thus, Paul speaks of obligations. The fact is many Christians feel obligated to the flesh. This is why Paul must remind us that we have no obligation to the flesh. The flesh has done us no favors. It has acted independently of our minds, causing us to sin and to fear divine condemnation. The flesh is instrumental in our doing things of which we are now ashamed (see 6:21). We owe the flesh nothing.

Why then do we feel obligated? Why is it necessary for Paul to tell us we are not obligated to the flesh? The reason, as I understand it, is simple: even though it is not true, we feel that the flesh has performed some beneficial service for us. Let me suggest some ways Christians might come to this false conclusion.

There are those who tend toward the libertine extreme of error, supposing that God’s grace in Christ is a license to sin. They believe that once they have been justified by faith, they can continue to live as they formerly did—in sin—with no guilt or condemnation. If Christ paid the price for our sins, they reason, then why not sin all you can? The false assumption is that the pleasures of sin and the lusts of the flesh are really good. Thus, living in sin is good for the present, and the forgiveness of sins is our guarantee of heaven in the future. Those who foolishly think and behave in this way wrongly conclude that they owe the flesh something because it has been so good to them.

The legalist feels the same obligation to the flesh as does the libertine but for what seems to be the opposite reason. The legalist may sincerely believe he is avoiding sin and practicing righteousness, but he is doing so through the flesh and not through the Spirit. Legalism tries to fulfill God’s Law by means of human effort and not by walking in the Spirit. The scribes and Pharisees believed they were overcoming the flesh, but they only appeared to do so and this by means of the flesh. It is the outward appearance which the legalist judges and not the heart (see Luke 16:15). The outward appearance of righteousness may very well be the result of serving God in the flesh. I am reminded of a song I once heard: “Workin’ like the devil, servin’ the Lord.”

 

We do not owe the flesh anything. The flesh accomplishes nothing which is righteous. The flesh is subject to sin and to death. Whether the flesh produces self-indulgence or self-righteousness, it cannot please God. We owe it nothing. In fact, it is so hostile to the Spirit that we are obligated to put to death the deeds of the flesh. All too many Christians, including myself, are far too busy catering to the flesh rather than crucifying it.

Having summarized our obligations, both negatively and positively in verse 12, Paul goes on to support his exhortation with two arguments. The first argument is not new, but simply a summarization of what he has already said. The second argument is new to this chapter. The first argument has to do with the consequences of living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit (verse 13). The second introduces the doctrine of the Christian’s sonship (verses 14-17).

Verse 13 gives the first reason why we are obligated to the Spirit but not to the flesh. It all comes down to the consequences of following the one or the other. If you are living according to the flesh, you must die. “The mind set on the flesh is death” (8:6). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). When one chooses the path of the flesh, it is a one-way street, and its destination is death. To follow the flesh leads to death as certainly as Interstate 35 North leads to Oklahoma City and beyond. I cannot go south to Houston and be on Interstate 35 North. I cannot reach righteousness and life by living according to the flesh. This is a certainty, as evident in the word “must.” “… if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (verse 13).

Just as certainly, living by the Spirit leads to life. Paul says this in such a way that it presents us with a paradox:

If we seek to live according to the flesh, we will surely die.

But

If we, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live.

Paul’s point here agrees with the teaching of our Lord: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

 

Paul’s words in verse 13 indicate that the Christian is to be far from passive in living out his life in the Spirit. We are not to be striving to be righteous in the strength of our flesh, but we are to be putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit. Furthermore, Paul’s words indicate not only a strong distinction between the flesh and the Spirit but an intense animosity. This is stated emphatically in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Galatians 5:16-17).

 

There is no peaceful co-existence with the flesh. We will either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will wage war against the deeds of the flesh which seek to dominate and destroy us. We must take this struggle seriously. We must choose sides. We dare not choose the flesh. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit. Therein is righteousness, life and peace.

There is yet another reason for our obligation to the Spirit—our sonship as those who have been justified by faith. This sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verses 14-16, the present dimension of our sonship is predominant. In verses 17ff., the future dimension of our sonship is in view.

In verse 11 Paul argued that those who are saved have the Holy Spirit living within them. Now in verse 14, Paul argues that all who are being led183 by the Spirit are God’s sons. Walking in the Spirit not only means walking in the power which the Spirit provides but walking in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit. As Paul has said elsewhere, “… it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). From our text in Romans, we know that the Holy Spirit is God’s instrument through which this work is accomplished.

WHAT IS A SON OF GOD?

Before going further, we must pause to be certain that we understand the meaning of the expression, “son of God.” What does Paul mean when he speaks of being a “son of God”? Let us consider this expression from the context of the Bible as a whole and then go on to see how Paul is using sonship in the context of Romans 8.

ADAM AS A SON OF GOD

Luke’s genealogy of our Lord begins with Joseph,185 and it ends with Adam. The final words of the genealogy read: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).

Adam was “the son of God” we are told. He was the son of God in that He was the creation of God. God was, so to speak, Adam’s Father. Adam was created in the image of God and as such was commissioned to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28). By his sin, Adam rebelled against the authority of God. He could never rule over God’s creation as a reflection of His image. There would have to be another “son of God.”

THE ISRAELITES AS SONS OF GOD

Adam and Eve lost the right to rule, but they were given the promise of deliverance through a son (Genesis 3:15). With the passage of time, it became evident that God was raising up another son—the nation Israel. At the exodus, this “son” was begotten:

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.”’” (Exodus 4:22-23).

This nation, this “son,” was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Speaking of Israel’s exodus, the prophet Hosea wrote: “Out of Egypt I have called My son” (Hosea 11:1).

Paul recognized this “sonship” of Israel, and so he wrote: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons …” (Romans 9:3-4a).

The Jews had a strong sense of their sonship, but in a distorted way:

“You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God” (John 8:41).

Like Adam, the nation Israel failed to rule as God had commanded. They rebelled against God, over and over. And so God removed their right to rule. Though they claimed to be sons, they did not act like sons. There would have to be some other “son of God.”

ISRAEL’S KINGS AS SONS OF GOD

God gave Israel a king as they requested. He gave them Saul (see 1 Samuel 8). After Saul was removed and replaced by David, the man after God’s heart, God made a covenant with David known as the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant God promised David,

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16.)

The words of verse 14, “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me,” are very significant. The relationship between God and His appointed king was described as a father/son relationship. When the descendant of David was coronated, it was with the words, “Thou art My son” (see Psalm 2:7).

A king from the line of David was to be the “son of God” through whom God’s rule was to be established over the whole creation. This “son” was not to be David nor would it be Solomon. Both David and Solomon sinned, as did all of their sons who reigned on the throne of David. If there was to be a “son of God,” it would be a very special “son of God” indeed. As the Old Testament revelation continued to unfold, it became evident that this “king” who was to be God’s “son” would be a very special person. He was described as being both divine (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5) and human (“son of man,” see Daniel 7:13-14 and also Psalm 2:7-9). Whoever this “son of God” was to be, he would be a very special and unique person. And so He was.

JESUS AS THE SON OF GOD

Adam failed as a “son of God,” as did Israel and all the kings from David on. All hopes for God’s rule on the earth focused upon the coming Messiah, the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; see also Galatians 3:16), the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Psalm 2:7). The “Son of God” was not to be Israel, as a nation, but Jesus of Nazareth. And so, when Jesus was brought from Egypt to Israel by His parents, Matthew cited this text from Hosea as being fulfilled by the return of our Lord from Egypt: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15, citing Hosea 11:1).

Jesus was the “Son” for whom every true believer had been waiting. It is little wonder that at His baptism the Father would speak these words: “This is My beloved Son …” (Matthew 3:17).

It is also little wonder that the temptation of our Lord resembled the testing of Israel in the wilderness or that our Lord’s responses to Satan’s solicitations should come from the Book of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Satan’s great effort in the temptation of our Lord was to divert Him from His role as the Son of God.

When Peter made his great confession, it was the confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Son of God: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

At His transfiguration, God the Father again identified Jesus as His beloved Son (Matthew 17:5). The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was unique in His identity and role as the “Son of God” through whom salvation would be accomplished and who would subdue the earth and rule over all creation.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM, AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.” And of the angels He says, “WHO MAKES HIS ANGELS WINDS, AND HIS MINISTERS A FLAME OF FIRE.” But of the Son He says, “THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. THOU HAST LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, THY GOD, HATH ANOINTED THEE WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE THY COMPANIONS” (Hebrews 1:1-9).

ALL CHRISTIANS ARE SONS OF GOD

Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” through whom all of God’s promised blessings are fulfilled. All who are justified by faith are joined with Him in an inseparable union (see Romans 6:3-11). By faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah, men may become sons of God:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

John answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Sonship, therefore comes to all of those who have a new birth, through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is to this sonship that the Holy Spirit, who indwells every Christian, bears testimony:

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16).

We are God’s children, sons of God, by faith in the Son of God.

THE SONSHIP WE AWAIT

Our sonship has both a present and a future dimension. In verse 17, this future dimension is introduced and is the subject of Paul’s teaching in verses 18-30. While we enter into sonship by birth—the new birth—our entrance into the future blessings of sonship comes by adoption.

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:19, 23).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the “Son of God,” but His return to the earth to subdue His enemies and to rule over all creation is yet future. Our part as sons of God is future as well. Paul speaks of this future hope in Romans 8:18-25. As Paul explains in Galatians 4:1-7, there is a time when a son is kept under guardians and managers until the time comes for him to be put in authority. This process Paul refers to as adoption. When Christ returns to the earth to rule over it, we will receive our full adoption as sons and rule with Him. It is for this future dimension of sonship that we wait in hope. Our present sonship is a marvelous blessing and privilege, but there is much more to come. The blessings of our future sonship show our present sufferings in identification with Christ to be a small thing in the light of the glory yet to come.

SONSHIP AND OUR OBLIGATION TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT

With this survey of what it means to be a son of God, we return to our exposition of the text. Paul begins in verse 12 to make application of his teaching by speaking to the Christian concerning his obligations. The Christian is not obligated to the flesh, but he is obligated to the Spirit. In verse 13, Paul gives the first reason for our obligation to the Spirit but not the flesh: living according to the flesh leads to death; living according to the Spirit leads to death for the deeds of the flesh, but life for us.

Verses 14-17 continue the contrast between these two ways of walking. How different they are. Walking according to the Spirit is described in verse 14 in terms of being led by the Spirit. How different this is from the way of walking in the flesh. Walking according to the flesh is slavery, and its motivation is fear (verse 15). Walking according to the Spirit is not serving a slave master but obeying our Father as He leads us by His Spirit. It is not a matter of slavery but of obedience, rooted in a deep sense of love, gratitude, and thus, obligation.

How different are these two ways of walking. When we walk according to the flesh, we serve as slaves motivated by fear. We are overpowered and overrun by it. When we walk according to the Spirit, we are led. We serve our Father out of a deep sense of obligation, not fear. We owe the flesh nothing. We owe our Father everything.

As we leave Paul’s words of application in verses 12-17, let me point out that the very spirit in which Paul applies his teaching is consistent with his teaching. The Christian’s walk according to the Spirit is a walk of obedience, based upon our obligation to God, based upon His goodness and grace to us. There are no harsh words, no dictatorial commands. Paul is not a sergeant here addressing new recruits but a brother reminding us of the goodness of our Father. God’s Spirit is a gift from the Father to every Christian. He reminds us that we are sons. He leads us and empowers us so that we may act like sons to the glory of the Father.

Sonship is a glorious position with great privileges. Sonship does not come without suffering however. If we are to identify with our Lord in His future manifestation as the Son of God, we must now identify with Him in His rejection and suffering. It is this dimension of sonship to which Paul turns in verse 17. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our struggles Paul will explain in verses 18-27, matters which we will consider in our next lesson.

Conclusion

I must ask you: Are you a son of God? Have you become His child by faith in the Son of God? If not, why not become His son now? All you must do is acknowledge your sin, your desperate need for the forgiveness of your sins and your need for the righteousness which God requires for eternal life. That forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment of God. That righteousness is found in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness God will impute to you on the basis of faith alone, apart from any works you might do, apart from any merit of your own. To receive God’s gift of salvation in His Son is to become a son of God.

If you are a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ, this passage is foundational to your Christian life. Let me conclude by summarizing some of the major truths Paul teaches in this text and suggest some ways these truths apply to us as Christians.

(1) The Christian life is possible because our sins have been forgiven, our guilt has been removed, and God’s Spirit has been given. What was impossible for us to do as unbelievers, and even impossible for us as Christians in our own strength, is possible through the enablement of the Holy Spirit of God.

(2) The Christian life is impossible in the power of the flesh; it is possible only in the strength of the Holy Spirit. The unbeliever can only live according to the flesh by which he is enslaved. The Christian has a choice. The Christian can live in the realm of the flesh or in the realm of the Spirit. He will live in one of these two worlds. He will walk in accordance with one of these two ways—the way of the flesh or the way of the Spirit.

(3) From the Christian point of view, there is no good reason to walk according to the flesh and every reason to walk according to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The one who walks according to the flesh must die. To walk in the Spirit is life and leads to life. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured that God is your Father, and the Spirit is your guide and your strength. To walk in the Spirit is to be assured of your present sonship and an even greater sonship in the future. We are obligated to walk according to the Spirit, but there is no obligation to walk according to the flesh.

(4) There is no middle ground between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. We are either walking according to the Spirit, or we are walking according to the flesh. Many Christians seem to think there is some neutral ground. Jesus said it long ago: there are but two masters; we will either serve the one or the other (Matthew 6:24). We will love one and hate the other. We will live to the one and seek to put to death the other.

(5) The flesh and the Spirit share nothing in common. They are incompatible. Indeed, they are mortal enemies (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:17). Why is it then that one of the key words in the Christian world today is integration? For example, many are trying to integrate psychology and theology. Why? Is there something necessary to living righteously which God has omitted either in His Word or in His provisions for us? Peter does not think so (2 Peter 1:3-4). Neither does Paul (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

(6) The distinction between the Spirit and the flesh is fundamental and foundational in the Scriptures because it provides us with a biblical basis for separation. All too often we make distinctions but the wrong ones! For example, we distinguish between that which is “secular” and that which is “spiritual.” Herein lies the false assumption that those in “full-time ministry” are working at that which is spiritual while those with “merely secular” jobs are involved in that which is not spiritual. Falsely we assume that certain activities (like prayer, worship, and Bible study) are spiritual, but others (like washing dishes, changing diapers or the oil in the car) are not.

 

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 says this is wrong. Consider this principle: IT IS NOT WHAT WE DO THAT MAKES SOMETHING SPIRITUAL OR FLESHLY, BUT HOW AND WHY WE DO IT.

Whether we work at preaching, painting houses, or washing dishes the issue is whether we are doing it by means of God’s Spirit or by means of the flesh.

Some of the activities which appear most spiritual are those which can be, and often are, done in the flesh. For example, prayer can be accomplished in the flesh, or in the Spirit:

“And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).

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Deep thinking with the Holy Spirit

It has been said, “Any idiot can be complicated; but it takes genius to be simple.” Indeed, the most effective oral and written communicators are those who take profound truths and make them simple. This has bearing on every area of our lives. When we communicate with others either individually or corporately, we must be clear and simple. The well-known acronym K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) applies here.

Although the apostle Paul is a deep thinker, he always strives to bring his great learning down to common folks like you and me. However, the passage that we will be looking at has endured a most unfortunate history of application in the church. Almost every form of spiritual elitism, “deeper life movement,” and “second blessing” doctrine has appealed to this text; however, each of these is nearly 180 degrees the opposite of Paul’s intent. Unfortunately, this trend continues today. By appealing to “the deep things of God” and “secret wisdom” all kinds of false doctrines are being perpetuated and widely accepted. Therefore, we must be on the alert against this passage and others like it being abused. Our goal must be to understand why Paul has written this section of 1 Corinthians and how it applies to our lives.

The book of 1 Corinthians expresses Paul’s heart for a dis-unified church to become unified (1:10). Thus far, Paul has humbled everyone including himself. He has said to the Corinthians, “Your message is foolish (1:18-25), you yourselves are foolish (1:26-31), and I am foolish (2:1-5).” Outside of that everyone and everything is just fine. Now in 2:6-16, Paul states that the only way the Corinthians and you and I can live a wise life is by having the right perspective and power. He will argue that without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark. Paul begins by addressing the right perspective in 2:6-9.

  1. True wisdom is cross-centered(2:6-9). In order to be truly wise and to consistently exercise a wise perspective, we must have a proper view of wisdom. Throughout this overarching section (1:18-2:5), Paul has declared that wisdom is found in “the word of the cross.” Thus, in 2:6-9, Paul can write, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.’” If you are a Bible student it is worth underlining the word “wisdom.” The word “wisdom” (sophia) is repeated five times in the first three verses. The apostles (“we”) speak the message of the cross to those who are “mature.” The “mature” are those believers who recognize and embrace God’s wisdom in the cross. Since Paul does not divulge who among them is “mature,” the readers must decide for themselves whether they qualify or not. This same principle applies to us today. Are you a mature Christian? If so, how have you arrived at that conclusion? Paul argues that we are only mature if we have the right perspective on the cross. Is the cross your solution to church conflict? Is it the means of unity? Then you are mature. Is the cross your solution to your marriage and family difficulties? Is it the means of reconciliation? Then you are mature. Is the cross your solution to work conflict? Is it the means of getting along with your boss and coworkers? Then you are mature. We never move on from the cross of Christ—only into a more profound understanding of the cross.

Although in the next chapter (3:1-4) Paul will discuss those who are immature and fleshly in their Christian walk, his expectation is that all Christians will live according to the right perspective. We cannot make excuses for ourselves and assume that maturity belongs to the spiritually elite. God’s heart for you is that you press on to a cross-centered life. Will you refuse to settle for stale Christianity?

In these four verses, Paul will tell us three aspects of God’s wisdom:

The wisdom of God is eternal (2:6). The wisdom that Paul declares is “not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away.” It is not like the wisdom that may come from Oprah, Dr. Phil, or influential political officials. The wisdom they utter is here today and gone tomorrow. However, God’s wisdom is eternal. Isaiah the prophet said it best, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8). Since God’s wisdom revealed through His Word is eternal, how can we not invest in it?

The wisdom of God is beneficial (2:7). Paul informs us that God’s wisdom is a “mystery.” The word “mystery” refers to truth that God had not revealed previously. The message of the cross is a further unfolding of God’s plan and purpose beyond what He had revealed and what people had known previously. Paul makes this clear when he writes that the cross is “the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory.” This stresses the plan and sovereignty of God. It also demonstrates that God has our good in mind—our glorification.

The wisdom of God is supernatural (2:8-9). The Jewish and Roman rulers responsible for Jesus’ death did not understand the purpose and significance of the cross, so they crucified “the Lord of glory.” The phrase “Lord of glory” implies the divine fullness. It also ties in with the saints’ glory (2:7). It is through union with Him that we will experience glory. Paul explains that the reason these authorities crucified Christ was because they lacked the supernatural wisdom of the Spirit. Paul then cites Isa 64:4. This passage is not about heaven, although it’s often used at funerals. It is clear in the context of Isaiah 64 that it means life, here and now. God wants to reveal these things to us. He has done so out of love. Trusting Him for understanding and cultivating this love relationship with Him means that we will grow in greater and greater understanding of wisdom. Yet, without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark.

[Paul has just said that the right perspective is to recognize that true wisdom is cross-centered. He goes on to share with us the right power in 2:10-16.]

  1. True wisdom is Spirit-directed(2:10-16). Paul will state that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals deep things to Christians. Therefore, if we want to grow to maturity in Christ we must rely upon the Holy Spirit’s power. In 2:10-11 Paul writes, “For to us [the apostles and mature Christians] God revealed them [deep thoughts] through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The wonderful mysteries God has prepared for those who love Him are not knowable only by a select group of Christians. Any and every believer can understand and appreciate them because the indwelling Holy Spirit can enlighten us. However, without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark.

Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit searches the very depths of the heart and mind of God. He can do this because He is God—the third member of the Trinity. Paul’s point is that the Holy Spirit functions within the Trinity the way our human spirit functions within us. Our spirit is the innermost part of our being. It’s where our deepest, most private thoughts reside. To put it another way, no one knows you better than you! The reason is that you live with you. I don’t care how well your spouse knows you or how long you have been married, no one knows you like you do. No one knows your private thoughts and those deep internals struggles you keep hidden. Because we have a spirit, we are usually our own best interpreter. That’s why when two people get into an argument, one of them will often say, “Don’t try to tell me what I mean. I know what I am saying!”

Therefore, if you really want to know someone perfectly you would have to tune into his or her spirit. The Holy Spirit is tuned in to the deepest thoughts of God. He has access to the innermost workings of the Godhead. Just as no one knows the deepest thoughts of a person better than his own spirit, no one knows the deepest thoughts of God better than the Holy Spirit.

What is the difference between SCUBA diving and snorkeling? SCUBA divers want to be able to go deep under water to see all that was there. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is like a deep-sea diver who can go down into the depths and find out what’s down there. That’s why the Bible says that even when you don’t know what’s going on, the Spirit can help you because He dives down deep. He gets way down there where the action is. He goes “deep-thought” fishing to connect us to the mind of God.

Since this is true, are you dependent upon the Holy Spirit in your Bible study? In your prayer life, do you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you God’s wisdom so that you can pray effectively? In your marriage and family, is your prayer, Holy Spirit fill me so that I can be who you want me to be?

In 2:12-13, we learn that God is pleased to reveal His deep thoughts to us. Paul writes, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” The moment you trusted in Jesus Christ you were given the Holy Spirit as a “pledge” of your salvation (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). One of God’s purposes in giving you the Holy Spirit is so that you may know the things He has “freely given” to us. There is no charge attached to the Holy Spirit’s ministry of illumination. It has been provided to every believer so we can get God’s answers to life realities. We have the Spirit of God, who knows the innermost thoughts of God and can communicate these realities to us. This means we don’t need more of the Spirit; the Spirit needs more of us.

In 2:14, Paul explains why some people do not respond to the Holy Spirit: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” A “natural man” is a person who does not have a supernatural dimension—he or she is without the Holy Spirit. Their natural values are physical and material. A person like that cannot understand spiritual things. They are controlled by feelings, moods, urges, felt needs, desires…by natural reasoning, logical choices made on the basis of goals centering on this life—success, wealth, power, and pleasure. Such a person does not “accept” the things of God for they are foolishness to him.” The term “accept” literally means “to welcome.” It is a word that was used frequently of the practice of hospitality. Thus, I think 2:14 can best be translated, “The unbeliever does not welcome the things of God.”

Paul also states that the unbeliever cannot understand the things of God. There are two different words in Greek that are translated “to understand” in our English Bibles. One means to understand intellectually, while the other is often used to mean understand experientially, or “discern the true nature and importance of something.” It is the latter word which is used here. Paul is not saying that an unbeliever cannot understand the facts of the Bible or that he cannot grasp basic theology or even that he cannot interpret Scripture correctly. Rather, what he is saying is that he cannot know the things of God experientially—he can’t discern whether those things are true or good or valuable.

The best way I know to illustrate Paul’s point here is with the concept of radio waves. There are many, many radio waves in this room. But we can’t hear them because we don’t have receivers to pick them up. Our ears are not tuned to those frequencies. The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. The unbeliever doesn’t have the spiritual receiver, the Holy Spirit, to enable him to appreciate God’s truth. He is like a deaf critic of Bach or a blind critic of Michelangelo.

Therefore, we should not get angry when unbelievers act like unbelievers. How else are they supposed to act? The deaf cannot hear, the blind cannot see, the lame cannot walk, the dead cannot move, and the natural man cannot understand the things of God. How sad it is that many Christians castigate unbelievers for sinning when sinning is merely a part of their job description. Yet, we allow believers to live any old kind of life without any rebuke, discipline, or accountability. There seems to be a terrible double standard. We should not become angry, irritated, or impatient with unbelievers. On the contrary, we should have a great empathy and love for them. While we should also have love and empathy for believers, we must stop letting believers live like unbelievers. We’ve got it all backwards. We need to understand that the only reason we ourselves aren’t still living as natural men and women is that God miraculously entered our lives. It is a gift of grace that we can now see reality. So we have nothing to be proud of; we’re not superior to natural men and women, just saved. That’s the only difference.

Paul gives a contrasting perspective in 2:15: “But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.” We hear the term “spiritual” being used a lot today, and often very carelessly. People call themselves “spiritual” because they are seeking ultimate answers, whether in the paranormal or in New Age philosophy or in Eastern mysticism or even in their inner self. But the NT uses the term “spiritual” to describe someone who is related to the Spirit of God. Spiritual persons are those Christians in whom the Spirit has really become the fundamental power of life (cf. Gal 6:1). Paul is describing people who consistently obey the teaching of the Holy Spirit. As a result of that consistency, they have great potential for being used of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 15 says, “He who is spiritual appraises all things…”

The verb “appraise” means to appraise the worth of something. In the art world, there are certain people who are fulltime art appraisers. They can look at a painting and say, “That’s a forgery. It’s worthless.” Or “That’s worth $5,000 at auction.” Or “That’s a Rembrandt. It will fetch at least $7 million.” These appraisers are well paid because they have the ability to spot the real value of a painting. Paul says that because we have the Holy Spirit, we can properly appraise the real value of things.

Contextually, this phrase doesn’t really mean “all things;” it means “all spiritual things.” Being a Christian doesn’t give one any special advantage in understanding calculus or in learning German. (I’m living proof of this.) A person’s I.Q. doesn’t automatically change when he gets saved, but his spiritual “I will” certainly does. The mature believer has a receiver for spiritual radio waves and his receiver is tuned in. He can therefore discern, appreciate, and understand the essence of spiritual truth. That means that we really can exercise moral judgment, because we have thoroughly studied the mind of the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. We have prayed about difficult issues and have examined them from every side; we have put them through the grid of biblical absolutes. Therefore, we have the courage to take a position on values and issues that the natural world is totally confused about. We have the courage to speak out on the wrongness of abortion, the destructiveness of the homosexual lifestyle, and the sins of materialism, racial bigotry, and oppression of the poor and needy.

There is another clause that follows immediately in 2:15: “…yet he himself is appraised by no man.” This phrase has been terribly misunderstood by some Christians. Some have suggested that this verse teaches that the Christian should not be judged by anyone. Yet, later in this very letter Paul will command believers to judge the flagrantly disobedient in their midst (5:3-5), to evaluate those who claim to bring words from the Lord (14:29), and to examine themselves to see if they are behaving appropriately enough to take the Lord’s Supper (11:27-32). Here, therefore, he is thinking primarily of being unjustly evaluated by non-Christians (or by Christians employing worldly standards), who have no authority to criticize believers for their misbehavior, since they themselves do not accept the standards they employ in making their judgments.

In reality, the natural world can’t figure us out. We are an enigma. They can’t understand why someone would volunteer for children’s ministry or youth ministry year after year, or give 10% of their income to the Lord’s work. They can’t appreciate why someone would want to talk about Jesus. Our lifestyle appears strange to the people of this world. We will hold convictions that other people don’t, based on a different set of absolutes. We will be kind and compassionate at times when others are cruel. We will be intolerant when other people are very tolerant. It’s all because we have insight into the mind of God.

Paul closes out this section in 2:16 with these dramatic words: “For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” Here Paul quotes Isa 40:13 to remind us that we can’t know the mind of God apart from the Holy Spirit.

Fortunately, Paul writes that “we have the mind of Christ.” Going back to 1 Cor 1:10, Paul urges us to be of the same mind. This means to share the mind of Christ, which is focused on unity and community life (see John 17).

In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul urged his readers to adopt the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). He then spoke of the death of Christ. To have the mind of Christ is to participate in the pattern of the cross. God’s heart is that we put to death our selfish ambitions and humble ourselves before one another.

In the old television detective series, Columbo, viewers were always told at the beginning of each show who had carried out the crime. Then the fun began as Columbo set about finding the criminal, unearthing information that the viewers already possessed. Watching Columbo was different from the experience of watching other mystery shows. If truth has already been made available to you, that necessarily affects your life experience and the choices and decisions you will make. As Christians, we have the opportunity to live life having been told ahead of time about truths that are hidden from the world. What we believe about life essentially informs and influences how we live and how we make decisions. The information we have about life is the basis on which we make our way in life.

Paul has declared that true wisdom is cross-centered and Spirit-directed. It is available to you today if you will merely adopt the right perspective and the right power.

Help from the Helper

Have you ever been on a long family road trip? I have.

I discovered that there were many advantages for a kid traveling with his parents. I never worried about how we would get from one place to another. I never worried about where our next meal would come from, or if we would run out of gas. I never worried about traveling in the darkness during heavy rainstorms or where we would spend the night. I knew my parents would take care of everything.

For most of us, life is more like a long road trip than a short vacation. There are long days of steady driving; there are times of driving down dark and lonely roads. There are some nice hotels and some absolute dives. Today, you may be at a dark point in your journey. You may be stuck in heartbreak hotel. You may be discouraged, depressed, and even defeated. Perhaps you’re on the verge of calling roadside assistance. Jesus wants you to know that He has given you a Helper who can provide you countless advantages. Most importantly, He can guide you through your earthly life and then take you to your eternal home. Jesus will say:

In John 16:5-15, Jesus is talking to His disciples on the night before He is crucified. The disciples are heartbroken to hear that He is leaving. They are scared to death. They are shocked and baffled, confused and disoriented. Their Master, their Lord, the miracle working Son of God, is going to be taken away from them. He is going to suddenly disappear and go back into heaven. They understand nothing. It makes no sense to them at all. They huddle like scared sheep around their Shepherd in the blackness of night. They are scared to leave Him. They are waiting for an explanation. In these stressful moments Jesus says, “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (16:5-6). Once again, Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to His Father. At this point, however, the disciples don’t dare ask Jesus any questions. In their minds, ignorance is bliss. In 16:6, Jesus explains the reason the disciples don’t ask where He is going: They are sorrowful because of what He has just shared. The phrase “these things” pertains to what Jesus has just spoken of—coming persecution (16:1-4). The cause of the disciples’ grief, lamentably, is largely preoccupation with their own fate. This caused them to miss the positive implications of Jesus’ departure, both for themselves and for the continuation of His mission.

Jesus is seeking to engage His disciples in a discussion about His own suffering and departure, but they are too preoccupied with themselves. There is a principle here: When you and I are consumed with our own problems, it is impossible to focus upon another person’s dilemma. Yet, we have been called to live a supernatural life where we take our eyes off of ourselves and care for others. In what way are you hurting today? Do you have a physical sorrow (e.g., migraines, back pain, cancer)? Reach out to someone who has a physical sorrow and extend care. Do you have a marriage or family sorrow (e.g., rocky marriage, disobedient kids)? Reach out to someone who has a family sorrow and extend care. Do you have a vocational sorrow (e.g., loss of job, low salary, difficult boss and coworkers)? Reach out to someone who has a vocational sorrow and extend care. When you reach out to others and bear their sorrows, you will discover that you don’t really have it so hard. Furthermore, you will realize one of the reasons God has allowed you to experience sorrow: to comfort others (see 2 Cor 1:3-4).

Unfortunately, the disciples haven’t yet learned this important principle. They are caught up with their own sorrows. Consequently, they don’t realize that Jesus’ departure and their own suffering is the best thing that could happen. This is often true in the spiritual realm. What seems like the worst thing may actually be the best thing. In 16:7, Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Why is it better for the disciples to have the presence of the Helper than the presence of Jesus Himself as they do now? Because the Holy Spirit will not only be with them as Jesus has been, but in them as well (cf. 17:23, 26). We tend to think that it would have been more advantageous to have lived when Jesus lived, to have seen Him, touched Him, and heard Him. But it’s actually to our advantage that He left and sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and He dwells within everyone who believes. Clearly, these are the best days to be living in. Through the Spirit, Jesus is here inside each and every believer right now.

However, if the Holy Spirit is to serve as an advantage in your life, you must ask the Helper to help you. This really isn’t so tough. In your daily life, you ask others to help you, right? If there’s a jar you can’t open, you ask for help. If you’re climbing a ladder, you ask someone to steady it. If you run into computer problems, you call someone who knows computers to help you. If you’re driving and you discover that you’re lost, you ask for help (at least most women do). To succeed in life, you need to ask for help. If you don’t, you will continually fail because no person has all the necessary skills to pull everything off in life. Similarly, in your walk of faith, you need help. You can’t do it by yourself. You ought to be continually calling on the Holy Spirit to help you to live this life. Not in the “Hamburger Helper” sense of help, where you throw together a meal with the “help” of Hamburger Helper. Rather, God is looking to “help” you in the sense that He takes over and consumes you. He wants to do His work in and through you.

In the remaining verses, Jesus speaks of two major advantages of the Spirit’s coming: He convicts the world (16:8-11) and He communicates to believers (16:12-15). First, Jesus focuses His attention on how the Holy Spirit convicts the world. In 16:8, Jesus says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Verse 8 summarizes the Holy Spirit’s role in the world. Interestingly, this is the only place in Scripture where the Spirit is said to perform a work in “the world.” The word “convict” (elegcho) comes from the drama of a courtroom trial. It refers to what the prosecuting attorney does when he argues his case. He puts the defendant on the witness stand and begins to pile up the evidence. Fact upon fact, witness upon witness, truth upon truth, slowly, inexorably, irresistibly building his case until finally the enormity of the evidence is so overwhelming that the judge is forced to say to the defendant, “I find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not only that, this word means to present the evidence in such an overwhelming fashion that even the defendant is compelled at the end of the trial to step up and say, “I admit it. I confess. I am guilty.”

Jesus expounds on 16:8 in 16:9-11. In these verses, Jesus explains what it means to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

First, the Holy Spirit will convict unbelievers of their sin. In 16:9, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Jesus is not saying the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin in a general way (though He does that). He is talking here about a very specific sin because He says, “they [humankind] do not believe in me.” What is the greatest sin? Is it murder? Is it theft? Is it adultery? Is it dishonoring your parents (I wish!)? Is it cursing God? Is it coveting? Is it extortion? Is it racism? Is it hatred? No. None of those things would be called the greatest sin in the world because there is one sin which, in its effect, is greater than all the rest. It is the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus is saying in 16:9. “I will convict them of sin.” Not sin in the general sense, but, “I will convict them of the greatest sin of all because they have not believed in Me.” Until people see themselves as sinners they will never see their need for a Savior. However, one’s personal sin is not the focus; Jesus has already paid for sin. The focus is the acceptance or rejection of Jesus. What will you do with Jesus? This is the question that we must pose to people.

The second reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because they need to understand their lack of righteousness. In 16:10, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” The Holy Spirit will convince the world of its need for God’s righteousness by making the world realize the poverty of its own righteousness. In Isa 64:6 of the Greek Old Testament, Israel’s “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is likened to a menstrual cloth. The Holy Spirit needs to convict unbelievers of their need to believe in Christ and not trust in their own righteousness, which is like filthy rags.

The third reason the Holy Spirit convicts the world is because of the reality of judgment. In 16:11, Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” At first glance this might appear to be a reference to some future judgment. But this text is not talking about future judgment. It’s talking about past judgment. Notice the phrase “has been judged.” Jesus is saying Satan “has been judged in the past, continues to be judged, is now judged, and will continue to be judged into the future.” The judgment is past, present and future. Satan may be a great power in this world, but he is already a defeated foe. This will be fully realized when sinful mankind, fallen angels, and Satan himself stand before the righteous God (cf. Phil 2:6-11).

The Holy Spirit will fulfill His responsibility to convict the world, but He also expects and commands you to fulfill your ministry to unbelievers (cf. 15:26-27). When it comes to sharing the gospel, there are three important principles to keep in mind.

(1) Pray for those in your life who have yet to believe in Christ. Keep sharing Christ, but remember that only God can change a human heart. Your first step should be to pray by name for your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, and family members who have yet to believe in Jesus. It’s as simple as writing these people’s names down on a 3×5 card or post-it-note and putting it inside your Bible cover. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict these individuals of their sin and their need to believe in Jesus. When you drive in and out of your neighborhood, pray for your neighbors by name. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and draws them to faith in Christ.

Our unsaved family members and friends are like the wasp that landed on a sandwich and began eating the juice of the jam. The wasp was so busy enjoying the sweet stuff it didn’t even notice that the person on whose sandwich it had landed had picked up a knife to slice the sandwich in half. In other words, the wasp was suddenly in great peril. But you know something? He kept right on eating. An unredeemed person is so busy eating the jam of this world order that it takes a disaster to get his attention. In fact, many people are believers today because God first got their attention in some unique way. They were indulging themselves and enjoying the jam of this world until God sliced through their lives. Then it dawned on them that this world wasn’t as tasty as they thought it was. This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. His job is to get our attention so that we take seriously the things of God.

(2) Proclaim Christ as the only way to God. Let’s suppose that you and I are standing 50 feet away from the edge of a cliff. If you fall off, you will drop 1800 feet before you hit the jagged rocks on the canyon floor. There are no guard rails to keep you from falling. As we stand there chatting, we see an old man walking slowly toward the edge. As he nears the edge, we realize that he is blind and has no idea the danger he is in. Suddenly, he calls out, “Which way should I go?” What would you think if I yelled out, “It doesn’t matter? Go any way you like?” Would I not be criminally negligent when he falls to his death? If I care about him at all, I will call out, “Don’t take another step. I’ll come and get you.” And then I would take him by the hand and lead him to safety. Love compels me to speak the truth and to do what I can to save his life. I recognize that most people throughout the city of our city would laugh at the notion that not believing in Jesus is sin. They would say, “We believe in tolerance, diversity, pluralism. Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. That’s your way of thinking, that’s not my way of thinking. Don’t lay that Jesus stuff on me.” But if you claim Jesus’ words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” (John 14:6) you will tell them the truth.

(3) Share the bad news before you share the god news. When I sit down to eat, I like to eat my vegetables first so that I can enjoy the rest of the meal. It has become commonplace and even fashionable to offer the gospel of Christ to the world as a solution to an inconvenience. We are told we need to believe in Jesus because if we do it will give us purpose in life. It will give peace in our hearts. It will help us make sense out of the world’s chaos. Now as desirable as those things are, they tend to trivialize the gospel. After all, a person might gain a sense of purpose through landing an excellent job that helps people. He might gain a sense of peace from a pill or a bottle, albeit a short-lived one. The Holy Spirit is concerned for more than those things. He does what no job and no bottle ever could do: He awakens lost people to their lostness and that has to happen before they are ever found. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ must be faithfully shared. It is the most important message in the world. A Mercedes-Benz TV commercial shows one of its cars colliding with a concrete wall during a safety test. Someone then asks a Mercedes engineer why the company does not enforce its patent on their car’s energy-absorbing car body. The Mercedes’ design has been copied by almost every other car maker in the world in spite of the fact that it has an exclusive patent. The engineer replies in a clipped German accent, “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.”

So the first major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is His involvement with the world. The second major advantage of the Spirit’s coming is that He communicates to believers (16:12-15). In 16:12, Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus informs His disciples that He’d like to share more with them; however, at this juncture of their spiritual maturity they’re not able to bear His words. They are distracted and disillusioned. This is equally applicable for you and me. Jesus has so much truth and insight that He longs to share with us, but He will only do so as we are able. One of your goals should be to be an eager receptor of Jesus’ words. Pray for a spiritual sensitivity to God’s Word. When you hear it, obey it, so that God will impart more truth to you.

In 16:13, Jesus says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This is not a promise to the church at large. This is a promise to these eleven men, which benefits the church at large. The text literally says, “He will guide you into all the truth.” There is a particular body of truth that Jesus has in mind. This is not a promise to guide people generally in their exploration of physics and horticulture or atomic energy. The truth is the truth about God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the truth with which the Holy Spirit concerns Himself. But, God’s Spirit doesn’t only show us the future in a prophetic sense … He tells us what is to come in a practical sense. He guides us in our decision making. God’s Spirit gives us guidance when it comes to practical matters. In Acts 15, the Spirit brought peace to a troubled church as they had to adjust their style of ministry to reach a new group of people. The Spirit also helps us in the selection of a college, choosing a job, finding a mate, and making investments. But we must have ears to hear. Moreover, we must first obey His revealed will before He reveals His explicit truth.

When we first moved to Longview, our home was less than a mile from the train track.. Initially, this caused us many sleepless nights but after a few months I never heard the train in the middle of the night. (This was not true for my wife.) I just slept through the the whistle blowing. It’s not because the noise was no longer there … I just tuned it out. That’s what has happened to many believers. We have silenced the Spirit’s whispers so many times that we don’t hear them any longer. We have read God’s Word and chosen not to obey it. We have listened to countless sermons, but have ignored the Spirit who was seeking to apply the Word to our lives. When we continually tell the Spirit “no” or “not now,” we eventually stop hearing from Him.

If you want the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth, you have to listen. You have to obey when you’re prompted to turn from wrong behavior. You have to follow through when you’re “moved” to talk to someone about Christ. You have to move forward when you sense a need to visit someone. You have to obey when you sense God’s call to serve in a certain capacity. You have to respond when you feel overwhelmed by a mountainous task.

The Holy Spirit communicates to believers by exalting Jesus. In 16:14 Jesus says, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The Holy Spirit’s primary job description is to glorify Jesus. When you hear a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost, you can be sure that there is a foul spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t attract attention to Himself; instead, He points people to Jesus. When the Spirit is moving mightily in revival and in various ministries, Jesus is the center of attention. Our goal must be the same. Like the Holy Spirit and John the Baptizer, we must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30). Our personal lives and ministries must not be about our glory and our accolades; we must point people to Christ.

This passage closes with a critical truth. Jesus says in 16:15: “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” Here the Spirit is seen in complete submission to and in harmony with the Son and the Father. He does not act or speak from Himself. Nothing originates from Him; all comes from the Son, and all is done to glorify the Son. Just as the Son did not do anything from Himself, but only that which He heard and received from the Father, so the Spirit never acts independently from the Son. The Spirit’s function is to reveal the Son in all that He is to believers. Yet, in revealing the Son, the Spirit is actually revealing the Father because all that the Son has comes from the Father. Thus, the Spirit reveals the Son, who, in turn, expresses the Father. It is a clear revelation of the mutual interdependency of the Trinity.

Another emphasis in 16:15 is that the Holy Spirit discloses Himself through the Scriptures. This means you and I must be in the Word in order to hear the words of the Father and the Son. Have you ever walked in the dark along an unfamiliar path without any illumination except a flashlight? A flashlight allows you to see a few feet—not a few miles—ahead of you. It provides just enough light so that you can see clearly to take the next step. In the same way, God rarely provides us with enough light to see every step we need to take in the future (perhaps so that we are not tempted to run ahead of Him). But He promises to give us enough direction to take the next step. This is why the Psalmist says God’s Word is a “light” (Ps 32:8) not a “floodlight” to my path. In like manner, who among us really wants to know what the future holds? If God were to reveal our future, many of us would be aghast at what calamities and/or diseases await us. We must walk with God in His Word step by step.

When I was growing up, my dad functioned like the Holy Spirit in my life. On our road trips and throughout my life he protected me, he provided for me, he guided me, and he cared for me. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will protect you, provide for you, guide you, and care for you. All you have to do is ask for His help. He will then empower you to live the abundant life here on earth (10:10), and then He will take you on a journey to a Heavenly destination. All it takes is the faith of a child to believe in Him and place your trust in His ability to take you home.


You are never alone

Hezekiah 6:1 says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Can I get an amen? Perhaps a “Preach it, brother?” No? Why not?! “This is not a biblical citation,” you reply. You are correct. Despite what many Christians think, “God helps those who help themselves” is likely the most often quoted phrase that isn’t in the Bible. This saying is usually attributed to Ben Franklin, quoted in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757). Franklin and his contemporaries adapted it from one of Aesop’s Fables—Hercules and the Waggoner (6th century BC). In the story, a waggoner’s heavy load becomes bogged down in mud. In despair, the waggoner cries out to Hercules for help. Hercules replies, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” It’s rather ironic that a polytheistic tale appealing to Greek mythology has now made its way into what many believers think is in the pages of Scripture.

“God helps those who help themselves” is not merely extrabiblical; it is also unbiblical. It is polar opposite of the message of Scripture. The Bible insists that God helps the helpless. Today, if you are feeling helpless and hopeless, don’t despair. If you are feeling lonely and discouraged, don’t lose heart. Jesus has a word for you. In John 14:15–31, on the eve before His death, Jesus imparts to His distressed disciples His final words. In these waning moments, He declares: God helps those who help themselves to Him. This is the message of John 14 and the whole Bible. In every area of spiritual life, from beginning to end, God only helps those who help themselves to Him.

This passage begins in 14:15 with a “hinge” verse. John links the previous section (14:1–14) with this section (14:15–31). Previously, Jesus taught about His relationship to the Father. Now He explains His relationship to the Holy Spirit. He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Jesus doesn’t command His disciples to love Him, but to obey Him. Love and obedience are linked throughout this passage. This is because John’s use of “love” (agapao) isn’t an abstract emotion, but something intensely practical that involves obedience. Whenever I read this verse, I think of the notorious line that many men use on women, “If you love me, you will…” I think one of the best comebacks to this pathetic line is: “If you love me, you will keep Jesus’ commands.” In the heat of the moment, you may also need to remind yourself, “If I love Jesus, will keep His commands.” This is a motivating verse because Jesus conditions our love for Him on our obedience. In what specific area of your life is Jesus seeking obedience from you? Will you obey Him today?

Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t expect mere raw determination or dogged discipline from us to pull off His commands. Instead, He seems to say: As you attempt to obey Me, I will give you My enablement—the Holy Spirit. Jesus puts it like this: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (14:16). Jesus promises a “Helper” that will be with us forever. The Greek word translated “Helper” is parakletos, or for smoother English, paraklete. Not parakeet, paraklete. We’re not talking about a colorful little bird that sits in a cage and sings; we’re talking about the Holy Spirit—the third member of the Trinity. Paraklete is very difficult to translate into English. Most English versions render the term “Helper” (NASB, ESV, NKJV), “Counselor” (NIV, HCSB), “Comforter” (KJV), or “Advocate” (NET, NRSV, NLT).

Perhaps the ambiguity of the word emphasizes that the Holy Spirit helps us in many different ways. It’s not just that He consoles us in our sorrow, but He also makes us strong in the face of opposition. The term Paraklete is like a diamond; it means something slightly different depending on how you hold it toward the light and view it. Yet, since you are probably hoping for the Cliff Notes® version, “Helper” is the most all-encompassing translation. The only real drawback to “Helper” is the term can suggest a subordinate rank. I immediately think of Hamburger Helper®, which implies that you can accomplish a great meal if you just use their handy-dandy mix. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is not just looking to help you out when you’re in a pinch; rather, He wants to consume you and take over your life. Remember, God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps those who help themselves to Him.

As a father I always tried to help my three kids learn to ride a bike without suffering too many scrapes and bruises. First there would be training wheels and a steadying hand on the handlebars. Then would come the day the training wheels came off, and I would run alongside the bike, one hand under the seat, giving instructions—“Now relax. Keep your wheel straight. Steady! I’ve got you! You’re doing great!” Crash! I would then pick up my child and encourage him or her to try again. Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, encourages us, holds us up, picks us up, dusts us off when we fall, and gets us going again. The Holy Spirit’s eternal patience and encouragement with us ought to give us the same heart for our children when we are teaching them how to ride a bike or drive a car or anything else. I know, that application hits a little too close to home. Yet, this point is critical. The Holy Spirit is continually grieved and quenched by our behavior, but He still persists in love and care for us. What an amazing God!

But perhaps you’re still not satisfied. You may feel that the Holy Spirit is the third-string member of the Trinity, following God the Father and God the Son. Before you start feeling like you’re receiving inferior care, note the phrase “another Helper.” Two different Greek words can be translated “another”—allos (“another of the same kind”) and heteros (“another of a different kind”). The word Jesus uses to describe the coming Helper is allos, which means another helper just like him! Jesus is comforting His disciples by assuring them they don’t need to be troubled at His leaving because He is sending a “Helper” just like Him. There will be no loss in the exchange. If you’ve ever wanted to walk and talk with Jesus like the first disciples, you can experience something even better—the Holy Spirit! Unlike Jesus when He was on earth, the Holy Spirit is always present and will be with you forever.

In 14:17a, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is also called “the Spirit of truth.” He is “the Spirit of truth” because He communicates and bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of Truth” is an important title given to the Holy Spirit and is also used in 15:26 and 16:13. This emphasis upon “truth” reminds us that the primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a commitment to interact with God’s truth. Jesus says that “the Spirit of truth” is a Person “whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (14:7b). 

Jesus states that the world “cannot receive” the Holy Spirit because they do not have a relationship with Him. In June 2009, America moved to Digital TV. If you have believed in Christ, the Holy Spirit abides with you and is in you. This means that the best help you have for whatever problem you face is inside you, not outside you. One fundamental reason many Christians don’t get the help they need when they are afraid, lonely, or weary is that they go to the wrong person first. Instead, as Christians, we must learn to ask the Holy Spirit to encourage us, comfort us, and strengthen us. God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans [lit. “Fatherless”]; I will come to you.” This verse affirms the biblical doctrine of adoption, which may be the most healing and comforting doctrine in the entire Bible. In our society, parents have been known to abandon their children. New mothers have left their babies in alleys or on doorsteps or even walked away from older children at home. In contrast, Christ doesn’t abandon His children. When you’re a member of His family, you’ll never be an orphan; you’ll never be lost in a child custody battle. In fact, Christ is saying to His disciples, “I’ll be closer to you than ever before! When people hurt you and disappoint you, I will be there for you. You can count on Me. I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6; cf. Josh 1:5; Heb 13:5).

In 14:19–20, Jesus continues: “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” It seems best to take Jesus’ words to be a reference to His resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection will increase the disciples’ faith that He is God.

Jesus returns to His emphasis upon love and obedience in 14:21–24: “‘He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.’”

These verses appear to state that Jesus loves us more when we obey Him and that He loves some believers more than others. This requires some clarification. Your obedience doesn’t make God love you more than He would otherwise. God’s love for all people is essentially as great as it can be. However, in the family relationship that Jesus is describing, your obedience allows God to express His love for you without restraint. When there is disobedience, God doesn’t express His love as fully because He must discipline you (cf. Heb 12:4–11). Without question, some believers love Jesus more than other believers do. This results in some believers obeying Him more than others and enjoying a more intimate relationship and greater understanding of Him than others enjoy. I have three children whom I love equally. However, if any of my children are rebellious and disobedient, I have to discipline them. This doesn’t affect my love for them—it is simply another expression of my love. But if their rebellion persists, we may not be able to be as intimate as I would like. I may not be able to give them some of the privileges or rewards that come from obedience. My love for my children doesn’t change, but our fellowship may change. If you have a wayward teenage or adult child, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Three other observations are in order. First, the verb “disclose” (emphanizo) in 14:21 means that Jesus will make Himself known to obedient believers through the Holy Spirit. Second, the word translated “abode” (mone) in 14:23 is the same word translated “dwelling places” in 14:2. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us, but He and the Father also dwells with us to the degree that we obey Him. Third, all this emphasis upon obedience is for our own good. When you do what you want to do instead of what Jesus wants you do, it always turns out bad, at least in my experience it does. I have never regretted one occasion of obedience to Jesus, but I have regretted countless episodes of disobedience.

In 14:25–26, Jesus shares with His disciples another role of the Helper: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” If you ever wanted to know how it was that the New Testament came to be written, your answer is right here. The disciples didn’t walk around Galilee with little note pads waiting for Jesus to say something so that they could take notes and then negotiate a publishing contract. They had absolutely no intention of writing anything. They never expected Jesus to leave. But later—much later for some of them—the necessity arose to preserve the things that had happened so that those of a new generation could know about them. That was when they began to write. However, I think that by extension we can see a valid application of the text. The reason the Holy Spirit would put these things into the minds of the apostles was because He wanted to put them into our minds. It is the Spirit who puts the words into Scripture, and it is the Spirit who helps us recall what we have read when we need it.

If you were a Christian when you were in high school or college (and maybe even if you weren’t!), you probably got serious about prayer just before a big test. You may have prayed, “Oh God, help me remember the things I’ve studied.” My prayer was a little different than that. I used to pray that He’d help me remember things I never studied. I didn’t just want reminders, I wanted direct revelation. Yet, in most cases, the Holy Spirit didn’t remind me of something I never bothered to learn. So if you’re looking for spiritual recall, it’s critical that you immerse yourself in God’s truth. There are many reasons for reading the Bible, going to church, and being a member of a small group. But one major reason is that it gives the Holy Spirit something to bring up, some truth to work with. Yes, He is the Spirit of truth, but He doesn’t drop truth on you unless you’ve been studying the truth.

Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I don’t really care about my Bible recall. I can take it or leave it.’ Whoa! Right now you may not feel like you need it, but I can assure you there will come a time when you will need it, and you will wish you had saved away some Bible on the hard drive of your mind. Most of the time when I suddenly find myself faced with a crisis, I don’t have the opportunity to say, “Um…could I get back to you in a week or so? I’d like to do some homework on this, then I’ll figure out what we’re supposed to do here.” Sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment, don’t you? You have to decide what you’re going to do. You have to choose Response A or Response B, and putting it off isn’t an option! How do you prepare yourself for those moments? By immersing yourself in the Word.

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have shown that the brain can learn simply from listening to different types of music. ‘It turns out that mere exposure makes an enormous contribution to how musical competence develops,’ said Henkjan Honing, one of the researchers. In the past, experts believed that the only way to shape musical abilities was through intense training, but this research suggests that exposure to music can similarly change the brain. Just as listening to music can shape our brains, exposure to God’s Word can change our souls. With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit changes us. We become more receptive to God’s message to us, and we gradually become more like Christ as we seek out God in our lives.

When your life is saturated with Scripture, you will experience the peace of Christ. Jesus exclaims, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (14:27). Jesus promises His disciples peace, but not just any peace. Jesus offers His very own peace. The phrase, “Do not let your heart be troubled” harkens back to 14:1a. But Jesus now adds the phrase: “nor let it be fearful,” because He is about to depart and His disciples are becoming increasingly anxious. As a result, they desperately need the peace He offers. It is worth noting that the Greek’s notion of “peace” was absence of war. The Jews’ notion of “peace” was blessing and unity. Jesus’ bestowal of peace accords with the Jewish view. In other words, Christ’s peace adds something to life rather than subtracts something.

We are used to thinking of peace as the absence of conflict, or the absence of stress, or the absence of worry. However, Christ’s peace includes the absence of distress but it also includes the presence of blessing. In fact, maybe we could go so far as to say that the absence of distress is the result of God’s blessing. Jesus is offering a peace that is a settled sense of well-being and security. What is your situation today? Whatever it is, if you have the Holy Spirit you can have peace in the midst of it because He lives within you. So don’t allow anxiety, worry, and fear to rob you of Christ’s peace. Instead, spend some time this week meditating on John 14:27. This is a verse that’s also worth committing to memory. Just write this Scripture down on a 3×5 card and tape it to your bathroom mirror, the steering wheel of your car, or your desk. As you read this verse several times a day, it will become committed to memory. Everyone needs peace, and you can find it in Christ. Just remember: God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:28, Jesus utters a fascinating verse: “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Previously in 10:30 Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” In this verse, He was speaking of His essential coequality with God (as one sharing the Godhead with the Father). Here in 14:28, Jesus is merely referring to His voluntary position as servant under God (as one sent by the Father). Jesus is saying that He is the humble, submissive Son who submits Himself to the authority of His Father. The words Jesus spoke to His disciples: “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father” are rather relevant to us. Although God has given us people and things to enjoy, it’s important to hold them with a loose grasp. Someday, God may choose to take them from your hands, and the loss will be less painful if you’re not clutching them so tightly. What are you clinging to? A job…a person…your family…material possessions…the past? Always remember, the Lord not only gives but He may someday take away that which He has, for a time, entrusted to your care. If He does, your possessiveness could find you in a tug-of-war with God.

This passage closes in 14:29–31 with these words from Jesus: “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” There are some interesting tidbits in these three verses.

First, in 14:29, Jesus tells the disciples that He has told them all these things before they happen, so that when they do happen the disciples may believe. This does not mean they had not believed prior to this time; over and over John has affirmed that they have (cf. 2:11). But when they see these things happen, their level of trust in Jesus will increase and their concept of who He is will expand. We too must pray that our faith in Jesus continually increases. Pray: “Lord Jesus, increase my faith.”

Second, in 14:30, Jesus declares, “the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” This phrase constitutes an idiomatic rendering of a Hebrew expression frequently found in legal contexts with the sense “he has no claim on me.” The expression, therefore, means not, “he has no power over me,” but “he has no legal claim or hold on me.” Christ will not capitulate His mission to be obedient to the His Father (cf. 14:31). We, too, must seek to obey Christ and fulfill His will in our lives no matter what.

Third, Jesus and the disciples most likely leave the Upper Room and embark on a nocturnal walk that would lead them to Gethsemane. Perhaps they even passed vineyards on the way, which would provide a fitting backdrop for Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15). The language is deliberately spiritual and alludes to the trial and the attack from Satan which awaits Jesus and the disciples.

If I were to take out a pen and begin writing, I could record anything I wanted to record. But if I removed my hand, the pen would simply fall on the paper and lie there. My pen has no life of its own. My pen contains all the raw materials I need to write with, but it has no writing ability on its own. In order for this pen to function, it must be joined to the life in my hand. When that happens, my pen can form letters it could never form by itself. It can compose clauses and phrases and put them together to make sentences because it is in my hand, and my hand is alive. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, He can write things that you could never write on your own. He can achieve things you could never achieve on your own. But if you live in the flesh and rely upon your own power, you’ll drop like a discarded pen because there is no spiritual life in your flesh, your unredeemed humanity.