Christianity 201

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

December 19, 2017

The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Communication between people in any language is difficult. Everyone interprets the written and spoken word according to his or her understanding and experiences. It is even more difficult to translate from one language to another. Many words have more than one meaning so the nuance of the original intention must be as carefully preserved as possible. Unfortunately, many translators have become interpreters. That is, they apply their understanding as ideas are processed from one language to the next. In the procedure many concepts may not maintain the thought that the original speaker had intended.

Consider the Greek word “charisma.” It was in common Greek usage before being adopted and understood in the English language. It is a noun having the idea of “personal charm or magnetism,” “the ability to influence without the use of logic,” or in Christian context alone, “extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit.” (English-Ancient Greek (to 1453) Dictionary) It is worth noting that “charisma” referred to an ability that a person had to influence another without logic but according to his or her personal charm or magnetism. Of course, common usage of charisma has the same meaning today.  Not all people have the same ability of persuasion; hence, it might be accepted that a person has been gifted with the ability to persuade others.

Biblical writers have also used “charisma” to convey understanding. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Translators have used “gift” for charisma to convey an idea. In staying with the Greek understanding the passage might have been written, ‘the influence of God without logic but according to his persuasion or personal attributes is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’ Or, ‘through the extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit is eternal life through Jesus, our Lord.” That is, it is through the attributes of God, his ability to attract and persuade that through using his Son he provides eternal life.  The “persuasion” and “influence” of God comes through the Holy Spirit. ‘Charisma’ does not possess the idea of a gift or something that was handed over to be received other than the Holy Spirit. The word “charisma” is used today. We do not say that we give ‘charisma’ at Christmas.

When the wise men visited Christ at his birth, they brought “gifts.” The Greek for “gifts,” used in this case, was doron, which according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary means “a present; specially a sacrifice: –gift or offering.” (#1435) When Christ spoke of the fact that fathers give good gifts to their children, the Greek word doma was used, meaning gift or present. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Cor 12:1 NIV) The Greek does not include the word “gifts” but reads, “about [the] spiritual, I do not want you to be ignorant.” Young’s literal translation reads, “about spiritual things.” A few verses later he presents, “There are different kinds of gifts” In this case he uses charisma, but it can be translated as endowments or qualifications again referring to attributes.

Regardless of how “charisma” is represented, eternal life comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord; he is the source. The writer might have omitted “our Lord” in his writing but its presence is significant.  “Lord” means “supreme authority” or “master.” Although some might restrict “Lord” merely to a title of respect, it is more significant in its proclamation. The persuasive power of Christ as lord, master, and supreme authority is the means of eternal life. Such thinking contrasts with the idea that the ’package’ of eternal life has been handed over as in the presentation of a gift. The writer of Hebrews has confirmed that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation” for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9). The writer does not allow that the Lord’s crucifixion provided eternal salvation but that it comes through his life –Christ as Spirit, (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27; Rom 5:9─10) — lived obediently through the believer. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV)

Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship (masterpiece NLT)…” (Eph 2:8─10 NIV) In this case “gift” is translated from the Greek doron  meaning a gift or present. This might be considered a summative statement. Since the ministry of Christ is the “source” of salvation, and because his incarnation, sacrifice and life were through provision by God alone, eternal salvation can be considered a gift, but this is so because the believer has become God’s masterpiece, conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) People cannot achieve their salvation by their own works or practices due to their evil natures; they cannot overcome their death sentence, nor can they transform themselves into becoming an acceptable offering. (Rom 15:16) The intervention of God through his provision is required. “Everything we need for life and godliness” has been provided (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and godliness. A proper response to God’s charisma is needed for the person who seeks God’s kingdom.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 10, 2013

Knowing The Reality of Christ

A year ago at this time we introduced you to the blog, I Want to Believe in God by Justin Powell.  We return now where this post appeared recently under the title The Reality of Christ in Me.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. –Philippians 4:12

I’m learning some truth to this verse in this season of life.  I’m going through things that in past seasons would have exhausted me and brought me down, but God has strengthened my spirit through past trials so that I am able to stand in the reality of Christ in me.  Through this reality I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

This world is beautiful but at times it can seem that everywhere we go we run into darkness.  When this happens I turn inward—to Christ in me—and ask the Spirit not only to give me comfort but to release His light to those around me and change the atmosphere.

And so, I do my best to do all things without complaining and disputing, that I may become blameless and harmless, a child of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom I shine as a light in the world. (see Phil 2:14-15)

I choose not to slander, I choose not to gossip or join in the complaining.  I keep quiet amongst those who partake.  I ask the Lord for strength to be swift to hear and slow to speak.  And I ask for wisdom that I may only speak life instead of childish, defensive words rooted in insecurities.  Christ is my security.  I do not need the affirmation of those around me.  They look for affirmation of other unbelievers to affirm their own insecurities rooted in their guilt of choosing unbelief in a God that they are mad at.  We must be careful not to get mad at God because of misunderstandings.  We were not made to understand everything.  We were made to live and to love.

I’ve caught myself daydreaming here and there about being old and close to the end of my earthly life.  To some this may appear morbid but I’ve just lost my fear of death and I long for that day that I can go and be face to face with God.  But I know that it’s a long journey from where I’m at and that day. 

For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. (see Phil 1:23-24)

So I seek to know Him more in this world.  I seek to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven.  I seek to be conformed to the image of His Son. (see Rom 8:17) I seek to not only live for Him but to live with Him—to walk with Him.  I seek to live His will for my life.  To change the lives of youth and speak life into the lost and the seekers of meaning.

You all are partakers with me of grace. So be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (see Phil 1:6-7)

Live in the reality of His love.