Chapter Five: The Power of the Holy Spirit

I began writing this post last night and finished it this (Friday) morning. The date and time always reflect the inception of a post and not the completion. Just thought I'd mention that. Not that it matters all that much. : )

In Chapter Five of "Respectable Sins" the author writes about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. "The Holy Spirit will not abandon the work He has begun in us." We are promised in Philippians 1:6 that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

This chapter describes the many ways the Holy Spirit works in us and through us to convict us of sin, to enable and empower us to deal with our sin, and "by bringing into our lives circumstances that are designed to cause us to grow spiritually. Just as our physical muscles will not grow in strength without exercise, so our spiritual muscles will not grow apart from circumstancs that challenge us...God does not tempt us to sin (see James 1:13-14), but He does bring or allow circumstances to come into our lives that give us opportunity to put to death the particular subtle sins that are characteristic of our individual lives. It is obvious that we can deal with the activity of our subtle sins only as the circumstances we encounter expose them."

Of course, all I have written in the last two paragraphs assumes that God is absolutely in sovereign control of all our circumstances. There are numerous passages of Scripture that affirm this, but one that states this truth most explicitly is Lamentations 3:37-38: "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?"

There are many applications that we can draw from this passage, but the truth I want us to see is that God is in control of every circumstance and every event of our lives, and He uses them, often in some mysterious way, to change us more into the likeness of Christ.

...the Holy Spirit does more than help us. He is the one actually directing our spiritual transformation. He uses means, of course, and I pray that He will use even this book to help us all uncover and deal with the subtle sins in our lives. But He does not leave us to our own insight to see our sins or our own power to deal with them...Therefore, as we move into the section of the book where we begin to look at our acceptable sins in detail, take heart. Remember, Christ has already paid the penalty for our sins and won for us the forgiveness of them. And then He has sent His Holy Spirit to live within us to enable us to deal with them.

...Sin is deceitful (see Ephesians 4:22). It will cause you to live in complete denial of a particular sin or mitigate the seriousness of it. Only the Holy Spirit can successfully expose a sin for what it is.

Be prepared to be humbled. I well remember the occasion when the Holy Spirit revealed to me selfishness in my life. Up to that time, I had always defined selfishness in terms of the obvious, overt selfishness I saw in the lives of a few other people. It was humbling to admit I was also selfish, but in a much more subtle way. Jesus, however, promised blessing to those who are poor in spirit--that is, to those who face up to their sins and mourn because of them. He also promised blessing to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness--that is, to those who earnestly desire to see the sin in their lives put to death and replaced with the positive fruit of the Spirit (see Matthew 5:4-6; Galatians 5:22-23).

There is a human tendency to lean too far into one direction or the other; either to focus too heavily on our performance and consciously or unconsciously believe God loves us in proportion to our behavior, or to embrace a cheap grace that suggests it doesn't really matter how we live and we need not be concerned with the remaining sin in our hearts and lives. Neither of these views are true and neither represent a correct understanding of the gospel. I am finally learning how to live in the grace of God, knowing I am truly saved, while still feeling the conviction to put my sin and selfishness to death as much as I possibly can through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The desire to be transformed into the likeness of Christ is greater than it has ever been within me. But this desire has grown in direct proportion to my understanding and appreciation of grace.

I have been thinking a lot lately about another aspect of seeing my own selfishness that helps me to grow in love. I've heard Tim Keller say numerous times that in order to hold a grudge against someone for wrongs committed against us, we must first feel morally superior in some way. In order to hold onto unforgiveness, we have to say in our hearts, "I would never do what that person has done." That's self-deception. That's living in denial of what we are truly capable of. And the more we allow God to expose our hearts to us, including the hidden selfish motives we are all subject to having, the more we will grow in compassion toward others when they fail us. Showing mercy is easier when you are not in denial of your own need for mercy. I don't mean to suggest that there shouldn't be consequences for serious wrongs. But even those consequences are an act of God's mercy. It's one of the ways He uses our circumstances to teach us and make us more dependent on Him and His mercy.

Every time I mess up and do something I regret, I am at the same time thankful for how that experience humbles me and puts me back where I belong; dependent upon God's grace and mercy. My own failures remind me of the reality that I also need the mercy and forgiveness of others. It helps me to grow in my ability to forgive. I heard someone say once that we are never more like Jesus than when we forgive. It's one of those quotes I have never forgotten.

A friend asked me this week how I would define sin. I gave the question a great deal of thought. One thing I have been thinking about this morning is that we should never approach sin as a checklist of behaviors. That is one way of deceiving ourselves into thinking we can achieve a perfect checklist. But that checklist will always fall short of reality. A subtle, selfish motive is sin. Not loving God with ALL our hearts is sin. Not loving our neighbor as ourselves is sin. We can do all kinds of behavior modification and never address the sin in our hearts.

Have any of us truly loved God with ALL our hearts? I dare say our lives would show dramatic evidence of that kind of love. I know I have not. Have any of us truly loved our neighbors as ourselves? No. Of course we haven't. And the evidence of that is simply watching the way certain situations are playing out in front of us continually. None of us can protect ourselves and simultaneously love others the way Jesus commands us to love. The only way we can profess the love of Christ while at the same time operating from self-preservation is to live in constant denial of our own sin.

I'm thankful God will not allow me to live in denial. He is constantly showing me how flawed I am. At the same time, He never fails to show me how loved and forgiven I am. I live now in the overwhelming reality of my sin AND His love for me. I guess that's why this is the kind of book I love to read.

I write because I love to process my thoughts this way and I enjoy sharing my heart with others. I love your feedback, even if I disagree with you. It lets me know someone is engaged with what I am writing. My hope is always that there will be something in these posts that blesses and inspires you, or at least provokes deeper thought about what it means to live for the glory of God and the coming of Christ's Kingdom in its fullness.