If you have been following our conversation regarding Christian spirituality, you will know that we have arrived at the conclusion that the Christian life essentially is, and must be, an ongoing supernatural encounter with God.
The Christian life is not about trying to be a good person, though moral perfection is its ultimate aim. Rather, it is about walking according to the Spirit of God now dwelling inside us, which alone has the power to make us good as God defines good. An ongoing supernatural encounter with God is the means by which we live as God intended.
It might be helpful to think of our discussion so far as a progression from the outer courts of the tabernacle to the inner sanctuary. We have left the farthest outer court, where Christian freedom reigns. Here, in light of the great price Jesus paid, we have permission to do as we please. But we are without purpose, direction and power over sin and for this reason we are not satisfied.
We have also left the outer sanctuary, where the Law reigns. Here, we try to live up to a Christian ideal, trying to obey all the rules and do good works to “glorify God.” But we only find frustration, for the law of sin and death even now still works against us when we try to be what God requires, and our obedience at best is a mere caricature of God’s true requirements.
But now we have reached the inner sanctuary, which is God Himself. According to Scripture, God dwells within us. According to Scripture, we also know His voice, we can hear His sound, we are led by Him, we walk according to Him, we keep in step with him, we sow to Him, and we can grieve and vex Him. In short, we have the capacity to commune with Him. And He is the only means by which we can overcome sin and fulfill God’s requirements.
Imagine yourself standing within that inner sanctuary. Better yet, imagine yourself that sanctuary, and God dwells in you. It should not take too much imagination, for this is what is, and has always been, true, since the day you became a child of God.
As you reflect upon this reality, I would like to make two observations about this state of affairs. The first is that the task at hand is no longer to serve God. Granted, serving God is the goal, but it is not the task at hand. That is, we want our lives to glorify God and be of service to Him, but we come to realize we have the capacity to do neither. We only have the power to submit ourselves to God, who alone has the capacity to empower us for service.
In other words, God’s goal may be to make us fit for service, but our goal is to dwell in the sanctuary. True service flows from the place of abiding and yielding to Him.
The Bible puts it this way:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12)
Many interpret this verse as a call to always be serving, or a command to change the way we think. If I may be blunt, it is neither. The “therefore” follows the progression in Paul’s letter to the Romans we have been discussing. He is saying, “Since you are powerless to serve God properly through effort and the Spirit alone is able to empower you, offer yourselves to Him without reservation.” It is a call to submit ourselves to the Spirit of God.
And it is only by this act that our minds are renewed, and we come to understand what God truly requires of us.
Many Christians are in a rush to serve God, and still many others are in a rush to renew their minds by their own intellectual effort. But the Spirit of God alone is able to do either one. Our own efforts to do God’s job for Him can only end in failure. Or worse, a grotesque counterfeit of the true spiritual life.
Which brings me to my second and final point for our discussion today. Paul’s other “therefore” statement takes place earlier, where he says:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Paul exhorts us to “put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit” which means allow the Spirit of God to put to death in us the things that prevent His perfect will in our lives. We will have more to say about this later, but if you reflect on Paul’s discussion up to this point, you will make a startling discovery: The flesh he is referring to is not just our tendency to sin. It is also our tendency to obey the Law. According to Scripture, both must be put to death for us to share in the abundant life God has for us.
Therefore, as you imagine yourself in the inner sanctuary, submit yourself to God by allowing all your self-striving and effort to cease. Allow yourself to rest in His presence. May the only work be the work He achieves in you, and through you. This is your true act of worship.
God bless you this Thanksgiving day, in America and beyond.