April 25 Reflections
Restoration is taking the post-Easter, ‘getting ready for Pentecost’ season to study, explore, and engage the person of the Holy Spirit. In order to provide a benchmark and introduction, I talked about what life WITHOUT the Spirit is like. Here are my thoughts on what it means to be Spiritually Dead. (BTW, special thanks to Corrin Chambers who helped me with spanish…)
Here’s the point:
Spiritually dead people are only the product of their environment and sensibilities. They are facing pain, trying to cope, coming up with life strategies, and using whatever behavior they can get away with. Sometimes they are very successful. Sometimes they are harmfully destructive. Spiritually Dead People are completely blind [2Cor 4.4], unaware, clueless, and even hostile [John 10.31-33] towards spiritual things because the Spirit is not in them [1 Cor 2. 11,14] This is so important because if we are spiritually alive, we often mistakenly expect people who are spiritually dead to behave, or think, or act the way we do.
And Here’s a Controversial Thought:
As your pastor, I want us to tread cautiously when we try to legislate or control people’s coping strategies… We treat people like they are spiritually alive, when they are spiritually dead. I’m not saying don’t work for justice. I’m saying there is a reason there is a raging culture war about behavior: it’s because Christians expect people who are dead to the things of God to understand or embrace the freedom, purity, wholeness that can ONLY come from the presence of the Spirit of God. Attacking with scorn and derision the coping strategy that lets spiritually dead people face the pain of life will be fruitless… Or maybe just bear the fruit of self-righteousness. May I humbly suggest that you pray? Ask the Holy Spirit to come on them and make them alive.
I got several really good questions (thanks @ajgibbs and @dg_rad) after the service. Specifically, how should Spirit-filled people respond to the choices and coping strategies of spiritually-dead people? What if their coping strategy affects my life? These are extremely complex and I would love to hear your thoughts. Listen to the sermon, talk about it with friends, push back in the comments below. We’re wrestling with this together.
April 26, 2010 @ 5:49 am
I’d actually like to take your controversial thought one step further and suggest that we should be careful to expect newly alive people to instantly shed their well worn coping strategies immediately. I have a friend who accepted Christ 3 years ago on Easter. I struggled heavily (and still do to some degree) with her inability to walk away from the lifestyle she’d chosen.
I think the point is we need to find a way to love people where they are, seeing past their sin (as Jesus does with us), while pointing them to Christ. It is God’s job to a) draw people in to a saving relationship with Himself and b) convict people of their sin.
Having just studied the Sermon on the Mount, I’m reminded that it all comes back to poverty of spirit. Only when I recognize the depth of my sin and my utter need for Christ can I see that I am really on a level playing field with the “sinners” I see around me and realize it is not my place to judge.
Not suggesting any of this is easy or that I by any means have any of this mastered. If only… Oh, and loved the chicken stuff – will never drive past one of the many pollo restaurants around town the same again. 🙂
April 26, 2010 @ 8:10 am
LOVE the controversial thought and totally agree with Cindy too. Especially in this city, where awesome men and women of faith dedicate time and energy to changing legislation, I’ve struggled to explain why I don’t always agree with what they’re doing. It is so good to express it as trying to make spiritually dead people act spiritually alive. Forcing them to change their behavior won’t bring them any closer to real life in the Spirit.
It is a hard line to walk, though. It is difficult to not appear to be endorsing certain coping devices when you are not actively opposing them. And it is difficult to help point new believers in the right direction without making them feel judged. Especially, as Cindy put so well, given our own depth of sin and utter need for Christ.
Thanks for preaching the Word, David, and for challenging us to think deeply!
April 26, 2010 @ 9:38 am
Great comments and questions, Cindy and Carolyn. And I, too, resonate with the question of what do we do with people’s coping strategies when they impact our lives? I’m mostly thinking through my fingers here, but it strikes me that it might be best deal with those coping strategies within the parameters suggested by the context of our relationship with the person. Obvious example: we all live in a society governed by laws; if someone’s coping strategy involves breaking the law (murder, fraud), then we critique their coping mechanism by punishing them in accordance with the law. Or if the person is our spouse, and their coping mechanisms lead them to violate the marriage covenant, then we call out and critique their coping mechanism as precisely that–a violation of the relationship, the covenant, that they willingly entered into. Lots of other examples wouldn’t be so clear-cut (and I’m not suggesting that the clear-cut ones are easy), but it seems that by virtue of the different sorts of relationships that everyone willingly enters into, regardless of our spiritual-deadness quotient, we submit ourselves to varying degrees of accountability and critique. Where David’s suggestion fits in here is that we, as people brought to life by the Spirit through the grace of God, must take great care to be clear-eyed about the actual relationship context in which we’re interacting with other people. (We may be friends with two people, a Christian and a non-Christian; our ability to speak into their lives and their coping strategies may be different for the two people, even if our ‘level’ of friendship with each of them is relatively similar.)
Enough thinking aloud. For now I’m intrigued by thinking of growth in Christ as a continual shedding of our (many) coping mechanisms… It feels tremendously vulnerable and also incredibly freeing.
Eager to discuss more in Small Group this week!
April 26, 2010 @ 9:43 am
I find that this really gets back to protect our own hearts and emotional health by adjusting our expectations of those that are spiritually dead. Realizing that “Christians expect people who are dead to the things of God to understand or embrace the freedom, purity, wholeness that can ONLY come from the presence of the Spirit of God” frees Christians from the sin of judging, being harsh and scorning those who do not have the Spirit of God for their decisions.
My question is: Isn’t that a coping mechanism?
I know that this was not the focus of the sermon; but, as David said, we all have coping mechanisms. What makes the ways we handle our lives and deal with stresses Godly vs. coping as the Spiritually Dead?
April 26, 2010 @ 11:50 am
What a thought David gave us—responding to the spiritually dead with prayer instead of talking (or sending a book, my other “coping strategy” for dealing with the pain of the lost lives around me)! It was a super helpful and timely reminder for me.
I think another great course of action is repenting of the ways that I use coping strategies other than God in my own life.
Still…I think it is worth making a distinction between “attacking with scorn and derision” and seizing an opening that the Spirit may be offering to speak truth into someone’s life, in gentleness and love. The key there, though, is the same: pray (in order to seek God’s timing).
And, like Tyler said, whatever the case, never to judge…
April 26, 2010 @ 12:07 pm
It’s hard to argue with David’s admonishment that we all be more prayerful people. That being said, I’m struggling with certain aspects of this sermon. God reveals himself not just through special revelation — such as by the Holy Spirit — but also through general revelation, such as the created order. It would seem as though the “spiritually dead” would still be able to know about God through natural law.
I’m thinking of Romans 1:20, here:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Dead or alive, we must have the capacity to see God. Now, I understand that some are going to say “but it’s the Holy Spirit that is opening people’s eyes to see these things.” I can understand that position, but the Holy Spirit did not come until Pentecost. The verse above says that God has been visible since the creation of the world. Second point, I’m not claiming that natural law alone is going to bring someone into relationship with Christ. In context, this Romans text says that these people who know of God have thinking that has become futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. My point is that there is still a shared knowledge of God.
April 27, 2010 @ 3:47 am
What a great sermon. Like all great sermons it leaves me with as many questions as answers. I definitely took away that we should love and accept people as they are, starting with yourself – no small order! One question I have is: if we are to adjust our expectations for the behavior of those who are spiritually dead, how will we know who among us is spiritually dead and who is not? I am sure it is not for us to judge. I also assume it is not predicated on being Christian – it would be hard to imagine that Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, and Gandhi were spiritually dead. So maybe the point is to pray that God gives all sinners grace and relieves us of our pain and dependence on coping strategies?
April 27, 2010 @ 8:33 am
whew! have mercy! fantastic questions everybody, thanks. Here are some thoughts. I’ll try to point out who I’m responding to, when appropriate.
1. The Bible is very comfortable with categories for people: In the Old Covenant, the primary division was between Jew and Gentile. THE primary category in the New Covenant ‘those who belong to Christ’ and ‘those who do not.’ What characterizes the former is that they have the Spirit, while the latter do not.
Today there are people who really don’t like categories and don’t like thinking that God would put anyone ‘out’ so they work hard to argue and prove that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says about categories. On the other hand, there are people who LOVE categories and putting people in them, so they labor exhaustively to establish behavioral and creedal criteria for who is what. Both extremes are polarizing caricatures of Christianity and both miss the Gospel. And in response to Chris, Tyler, and others we need to be very careful about deciding who is spiritually dead.
2. That said, keep coming back on Sundays, because the next 10 weeks is all about the marks of those who have the Spirit. Jesus says, over and over that you know a tree by its fruit. You know if someone is Spiritually Alive by the way they worship (the Trinity) and pray and deal with their faults and forgive, etc…
3. Chris asks a difficult question– how could we call people who were great leaders and good teachers spiritually dead? We need to clarify terms: spirit (with a lower case ‘s’) and all its cognates (spiritual, spiritually, etc) is a ubiquitous term these days and describes everything from looking at the Grand Canyon (a spiritual experience) to meditation to music. Anybody can be ‘spiritual’ and this usually refers to some enigmatic, ‘deep’ connection to what feels transcendent. It usually describes a feeling, even an emotion.
When I talk about being ‘Spiritually Dead’, I mean that the Holy Spirit is not living inside of you. Remember, the Holy Spirit is a person. He is only available to those who have asked Jesus to be their forgiver and who have asked Jesus to be the One who leads their life. For those who have yielded to Jesus’ grace and authority, He gives the Holy Spirit to come and live in them. Except for Moses (I’ll get to him in a moment with Jeff’s question), those men you listed– the Buddha, Mohammad, Gandhi were all spiritual people, but by their own admission, they did not yield their lives to the leadership of Jesus (for lots of different reasons that these men wrote widely about…), so the Holy Spirit was not living in them.
4. Jeff, the Holy Spirit was around before Pentecost. It was hovering over the waters in Gen 1.2 The Godhead has always existed as a Trinity. The difference that Pentecost made was that the Holy Spirit became democratized and available to everyone. Throughout the Old Testament, there are examples of the Spirit coming on specific people at specific times for specific reasons [I’m thinking of Bezalel in Ex 31.1-5, Gideon in Judges 6. 14-16, Samson in Judges 15: 14-15, Isaiah in 61.1-3(foreshadowing JC), and a case can be made that Moses had the Spirit on him]
I totally believe in common grace and I love where you are going with Rom 1. This Sunday I will talk about how the Spirit draws people to God. God, through His Spirit, uses all sorts of things to draw people to Himself. And people can only come to God if He draws them through His Spirit.
5. Tyler, awesome question. I think the difference is completely wrapped up in what you believe about Jesus. You are right to assert that all of us face the same types of pain– there is not special pain for Christians or special pain for non-Christians. And I would add, we all have the same set of coping mechanisms from which to choose. And we know that there are those who have the Holy Spirit who make really bad choices with their life.
It comes back to, is Jesus the one who leads and gets to call the shots in your life? So, if I make a choice to cope with pain in a way will lead to death, guilt, and shame, am I willing to turn and say, “God you know better than I how to lead my life. Your ways are better than mine. I am willing to turn away from these things that are intent on destroying me and embrace your forgiveness and leadership.”
Perhaps ‘Godly-coping’ is a life of confession, turning away, and worship– over and over and over…
April 27, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
Hey David, my choice of phrasing was poor: I know that the Holy Spirit has always existed as a part of the Godhead. What I should have said is that the Holy Spirit came to the church at Pentecost, I did not mean that He came into existence then. Yes, those are great references about the Spirit acting in the OT.
My confusion is that the the Romans text says “men are without excuse” since the creation of the world, not “some handful of people who interacted with the Holy Spirit are without excuse”. If this is the case, then there must have been an opportunity to make a decision “for God” prior to the Holy Spirit being “democratized” and made available to everyone. Can you help me understand this?
April 28, 2010 @ 9:19 am
Jeff, I’ll try. It’s a great question.
You actually answered the question for yourself in your previous comment: it’s the Holy Spirit that is opening people’s eyes to see these things.
God does reveal Himself through the created order and general revelation, but our ability to respond to these things is ONLY because He also uses His Spirit to draw us, to open our eyes, to give us sensitivity.
In other words, 2 people can look at a sunset. One can say ‘Nature is beautiful.’ The other can say, ‘God is amazing’. Both are right. The latter can only connect a beautiful sunset to the reality of God by the Holy Spirit.
I will use ‘I’ here, because there are differences of opinion on this… I always err on the side of God’s sovereignty and I believe that people can only be brought to life and be made sensitive to general revelation and the things of God, by the Holy Spirit. Which is why I feel we have to pray.
April 28, 2010 @ 9:19 pm
Love reading about people’s curiosities and wisdom. Such good stuff. Thanks all for taking the time to write.
I studied the Holy Spirit for the first time over a year ago. It blew my mind. Until then I had no idea who really the Spirit was and realized that I had only been referring to Him out of courtesy (bc I believed in the Trinity). So glad to be studying some more with you all at RAC. I’ve been asking the Holy Spirit to display His full power in us during this time.
One thing that I am curious about is…
1. If the Holy Spirit has always existed and 2. We all depend on the Holy Spirit to draw us to the things of God and 3. We can get more of the Holy Spirit by asking Him to fill us, then why aren’t we taught to pray specifically for His filling in the Lord’s prayer?
Whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer, this piece seems missing for me. Why didn’t Jesus teach us to pray”…give us this day our daily bread and fill us with Your Holy Spirit…”