[The following are excerpts from a Spiritual Life integration paper.]
There seems to be a great fascination with time travel in our popular culture. From the memorial Back to the Future and Terminator series to the recent family movies Free Birds and Alice Through the Looking Glass, we seem to have an innate desire to be involved in the whole picture (of history). Although this type of time travel is indeed unachievable by finite human beings, we can yet do our best to do so conceptually. Here is an invitation to hop in Calvin and Hobbes’ cardboard time machine and travel through the medium that is God’s perspective, landing at different points throughout history and our own Christian life to gain that fuller understanding of who we are in context of God’s overarching purpose.
It was around this age when I came to the realization that God had a focused purpose in creating humanity that, to my wonder, did not have an end purpose of me!
As a youth group leader, I have the great privilege of watching sprightly youngsters grow in their faiths in Christ, which is universally paralleled by a determined growth in independence, control, and a good dose of selfishness and greed. Not surprisingly then, it was around this age when I came to the realization that God had a focused purpose in creating humanity that, to my wonder, did not have an end purpose of me! The first question we would ask God as we begin our cardboard travels to an external vantage point is, “Why did You create us?”
His answer comes back, “That My Name will be glorified!” When considering the wonder of creation, this response inevitably goes uncontested; but when considering the ensuing carnality and wretchedness, it might seem God’s plan was foiled. Yet from God’s vantage point outside of time, His purpose to glorify His name is truer than time itself. Reinstatements of this purpose have happened throughout history, and we are not yet in the final “episode”. The first episode was given to Adam and Eve and their descendants (and then Noah and his descendants after the Flood) in Gen. 1:28 (and Gen. 9:1). After God had made man in His likeness, He then instructed them to fill the earth with His image, ruling over the earth just as He rules over all.
It seems that we have desired to bear God’s image in more ways than intended, however, when we decided that we wanted to glorify our own name over God’s name, as demonstrated at first by Adam and Eve’s sinful act against God’s one and only command. Mankind has been rebelling against all of God’s commands since that day, cementing our separation from God and our failure to glorify His name throughout the whole earth. In fact, this first episode culminated in a time when the people of the day commenced building a tower to make a name for themselves and to keep people from spreading throughout the whole world (Gen. 11:4). The remaining reinstatements went out to the Jewish nation beginning with Abraham, which failed when they were exiled from the Promised Land; then to the Jews in Jesus’ time during His earthly ministry, which failed when they crucified Him; then to the New Testament church during the current era, which will end when the evil one will seem to have his way during the end times. Finally, upon Jesus’ second return will the New Heaven and New Earth be filled with God’s glory, inhibited by nothing.
In this New Testament church era, we find ourselves fulfilling the impossible task of modeling and spreading God’s image throughout the whole earth better than any group previously. God has actually given us a direct charge to be perfect and holy like Him (Matt. 5:48, I Pet. 1:15-16). This is impossible enough when considering our great tendency to sin verses the fact that God is sinless eternally; how much more when we consider the fact that we are created beings and He is not! Even so, the fact that He has given us these commands and enabled the church with His Spirit gives testimony to the infinite grace He has for us. The way in which holiness is built into the Christian’s life could be described in particular with the phrase “progressive and continual sanctification”; that is, a continual process of becoming progressively more like Christ.
This grace of God that enables Christians to become like Christ is the topic of “The Grace Awakening” by Chuck Swindoll, in which he states that “all of us are drawn to those whose faces invite us in and urge us on.” He continues by suggesting that “freedom gives people a ‘Yes’ face. I am confident Jesus had a ‘Yes’ face. I have never seen Him, but I’ve determined from what I’ve read about Him that this was true. What a contrast He must have been! He was surrounded by lettered men, religious, robed, righteous, law-quoting, professional men whose very demeanor announces ‘NO!’ ” Grace is humanity’s favorite characteristic of God, because it clears us of our wrongs and provides a way to eternity. Jesus constantly shared His grace with the lowly on Earth, fulfilling Isa. 61:1-2, despite pervasive sin surrounding Him. He would heal people and say such things as, “your sins are forgiven” (e.g. Matt. 9:2), “your faith has saved you” (e.g. Luke 7:50), and “go now and leave your life of sin” (e.g. John 8:11). This is what people were longing for greatly, and what we long for greatly too!
In our culture, we grow towards independence, whereas spiritually, we mature towards dependence, leading to a radical counter-cultural shift towards humility and submission.
However, what is our favorite characteristic about God is also our least favorite. Swindoll points out that grace is “absolutely and totally free. You will never be asked to pay it back. You couldn’t even if you tried. Most of us have trouble with that thought, because we work for everything we get.” In our culture, we grow towards independence, whereas spiritually, we mature towards dependence, leading to a radical counter-cultural shift towards humility and submission. We need to therefore keep Eph. 2:8 close to heart: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith….”
This grace therefore comes through faith – a word with varying meanings. A short discussion on what faith is and is not and what it does is profitable here. First, faith is not an emotion that is void of any logic or reason, as supposed by the common use of the term “blind faith”. Rather, Christian faith is the culmination of three things: true and full knowledge of Jesus, acknowledgement of those truths, and a personal commitment before God to follow Christ. Practically speaking then, faith puts a reasonable trust in the unseen, and seeks the ultimate reward by doing so, as highlighted in Heb. 11:6. Just as grace is counter-cultural, so is faith – by nature we desire to settle down and provide for ourselves; godly faith instead requires a trust in God that forces us to relinquish what little control we think we have. Pride and fear can easily win the day. This is why appealing to people to have “faith” in God based only on knowledge will not appeal to the masses, who “are understood not as fundamentally thinking machines but rather as believing animals, or essentially religious creatures, defined by a worldview that is pre-rational or supra-rational.” “However, to say that all humans desire the kingdom does not mean that we all desire the same kingdom.” Faith in Christ is the important qualifier.
Just as grace is counter-cultural, so is faith – by nature we desire to settle down and provide for ourselves; godly faith instead requires a trust in God that forces us to relinquish what little control we think we have.
Romans 6-8 examines the internal clockwork of what this “faith in Christ” looks like. Remember that humanity’s pervasive problem is the rule of sin over our lives, acting as a reverse-firewall against God. Chapter 6 explains how sin no longer has control over us due to the sinless life of Jesus being credited to our “account” when we believe. Baptism is presented as a demonstration of death to our life under sin and resurrected life in Christ. Chapter 7 extends this concept of death to the law with its rules and regulations that, although good in nature, provided a wide-open door for sin to manifest itself. Just as we are not under the control of sin, we are not under law; likewise, since Jesus’ sinless life is credited to us, the law has no more purpose in our lives as Christians. What remains is highlighted in Chapter 8 – “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit…” (vv. 8-9). The Spirit, then, is Who enables us to live in Christ.
I believe that spiritual maturity can be defined by increasingly active identification and participation in this unseen battle.
Lewis Sperry Chafer explains in “He That Is Spiritual” that, “there are two great spiritual changes which are possible to human experience – the change from the ‘natural’ man to the saved man, and the change from the ‘carnal’ man to the ‘spiritual’ man. The former is divinely accomplished when there is a real faith in Christ; the latter is accomplished when there is a real adjustment to the Spirit.” Despite being free from slavery to sin, we still deal with our carnality in our fleshly body and its desires. We therefore find ourselves in a great battle between our flesh and the Spirit, and its effects are constantly felt because the two sides are so perfectly contrary to each other (Gal. 5:17). The flesh will adversely affect our ability to follow God, and will hurt our interactions with others. The battle that rages in me every day between my flesh and the Spirit is a battle for me. I believe that spiritual maturity can be defined by increasingly active identification and participation in this unseen battle.
As I Tim. 5:24 alludes to, some revelations of our flesh are quite obvious (when selfishness, pride and greed reveal themselves in outbursts of anger or in hurtful words), and others can be quite sly. The flesh can actually be disguised as virtuous, even within the church. Leadership positions can often be used as a way to lord oneself above another, and busyness in service can be used as a way to obtain a feeling of success. These are both temptations that I myself have had over the years, and when yielding to such temptations corporately, the church will quickly depart from God’s care. Many cultures have some sort of stigma against vulnerability, but this is of course counter-culture to Christ’s desire for the church. Thus, the need to be actively aware of the battle that is raging inside of each one of us is crucial, which can be done through self-assessments and by inviting fellow church members into an accountability role.
Another major role we can actively take in our battle with flesh is with spiritual disciplines, such as devotional times, prayer, fasting and service. When I desire to start such a discipline, setting a rule for myself seems to be much more successful than simply stating my desire. Though seemingly acceptable, it is a fallback to being under law as described in Romans 7, and legalistic tendencies ensue. It therefore comes down to a matter of the heart, so that the cliché holds true: “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” The difference between relationship and religion highlights the freedom we have in Christ; freedom to live and to make decisions. Let us not make decisions for others, nor let others make amoral decisions for us. As we draw closer in spirit to God in freedom, apart from sin and rules and legalism, and despite the temptations of our flesh, we grow more-and-more in likeness to Jesus (II Cor. 3:18), who is the perfect representation of God (Heb. 1:3). In this way, we are in that process (albeit imperfectly) of extending God’s glory into all the universe.
 Vic Anderson, “The Story of the Bible,” March 2015, Class handout.
 Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2003), 4.
 Ibid., 8.
 James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009), 43, ATLA Religion Database.
 Ibid., 54.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1943), 20, Google Books.