God Moves Inside

So let’s keep going on this new Father-child relationship and explore a thought that takes it up to an entirely new level.  The dynamic of your new connection to the Father is so much more than just a new name on your “new birth” certificate, or the joy of a father-daughter dance, or working together as father and son on your Pinewood Derby car.

No, what is incredible, unusual, and powerful about this new life is that God is not just a father standing in line next to you at an amusement park, He is literally living inside of you.  As great as our best earthly father connection can be, God living inside us brings us so much more.

That the God of the universe indwells His children is a prominent theme throughout the New Testament.  We generally think of God’s indwelling in terms of His Spirit living inside.  And He does.  But throughout the New Testament, Christ and the Holy Spirit are often used interchangeably to describe God’s presence inside you and I.  Let’s start with the Spirit.

In the last supper discourse of John chapters 13-17, Jesus promised the Spirit to His disciples.  “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Gr. Paracletosone called alongside to help), that He will be with you forever;” (Jn 14:16).  What does Jesus mean by a Helper, coming alongside to help?  And what is “be with you forever”?

Jesus continues in the next verse, “this is the Spirit of truth (i.e. the one who we now refer to as the Holy Spirit), who the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:17).  Did you catch the subtle addition to the Spirit’s “helper” duties?

The Spirit is not just coming alongside to help – though He certainly does that – but look at the end of verse 17.  He is coming to be in you.  What in the world does “in you” mean?  Is God in the form of the Holy Spirit actually coming to live in me?  Can God become that personal; to live inside each of us who are His children?

Let’s continue.  “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him … But since the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you” (Rom 8:9,11).

The Spirit who dwells in you is not just chilling out inside you.  He is active. He is working.  He is “giving life to your mortal body”.  He is giving you life.  He is giving you spiritual life.  He is giving you righteous life.  He is opening the flood gates that allow the righteous life of God to literally flow into your mortal body, into your earth-suit, into your physical being.

In short, the God who moved inside isn’t silent and still.  He is active – and as we will see next time – active on your behalf.

God’s Beloved Child

So how can we know for sure that our separation has ended?  Is this really the message of God’s Word?  Let’s move now from our picture of the study door being flung wide open to the Scriptures.  This idea that our separation from our Father has ended is completely wrapped up in our identity as God’s child.

“You are sons of God being led by the Spirit of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:14-17).

Look at how many times in these four short verses our identity as God’s child is highlighted.  “Sons of Godadopted as sonswe cry, ‘Abba! Father!’children of Godheirs of God.”  What a glorious picture of our sonship.  What an incredible list of identifiers.  Our connection to God is fully formed because of our new relationship with the Father.  We are literally a child of God Himself.

This adoption as sons and daughters is all fueled by God’s great love for us.  “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (I Jn 3:1).  God’s great love has brought us into the fold, and it is a love from which we can never be separated.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35, 37-39).

Your connection to God – your identity as His child – is final and secure because it rests entirely on God’s love.  It does not rest on your obedience, your effort, your feelings, your experience, or any other created thing.  Your secure connection fully stands on the foundation of God’s love; a love that sprung into action when God poured out His grace upon you and me.

This love and grace was expressed to us in the highest way possible when Christ died in our place.  Jesus took on our sin, our guilt, and our punishment in His death.  And it was this expression of love that opened wide the door to God’s holy place and welcomed us in as the beloved child of God.

A Light Under the Door

A word picture that came to mind after my last post may help illustrate the difference I am talking about in how we address our connection to God.  Many “gospel centered” writers – though certainly not all – paint the following picture of our connection to our heavenly Father.

Let’s say that you are standing in the hall of a great house.  Your Father is patting you on the head.  He says, “You are totally accepted by Me.  I love you.  I will always love you.  There is nothing you can do to lose my love.  You are approved by Me.  Your sins are completely forgiven.  There is nothing more you need to do to “earn” my favor.  Christ did it all when He died in your place on the cross.”  It is a beautiful and true message.

Then your Father proceeds down the hall and enters His study.  He shuts the door and you see a sliver of light shining into the hall from under the door.  You are left to figure out your next steps based on His commands, instructions, etc.  And there you are, on your own to live the life.

Now let’s think of another scenario, a picture that I believe illustrates the New Testament message.  You have received the Father’s message of forgiveness, approval, acceptance, and love.  But you are not left standing in the hall.  No, the study door has been flung open and the light pours out into the hall.  And you hear the Father calling your name.

You rush into His holy chamber and in an instant you are on your Father’s lap, crying “Abba Father”.  Yes, this is where you belong.  And the Father lovingly cradles you and says, “I don’t want you left in the hall.  I want you right here.  In fact, I want you so close that I, the Maker of the Universe; I, the Creator of the World; I, the Sovereign over all sovereigns, am coming to live right inside of you and you will live your life inside of Me.  I in you, and you in Me.”

That is the connection you have with your Father.  It is a connection that is unbreakable.  It is a connection that is unshakeable.  It is a connection that is full of power, energy, righteousness, and everything you need to live the Christian life.

It is a connection we will continue to explore in the days to come.  But for now, let me leave you with a few truths to dwell on, and to ask yourself, “Do I really believe this is true?”

You are not divine, but you contain the Divine.  “You are a partaker of the divine nature” II Pet. 1:4.

You are not deity, but you contain the Deity.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” II Cor 4:7.

You are not the Christ, but the Christ lives inside you.  “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” Jn 14:20.

Your Separation Has Ended

Last time we ended with just one of the many promises of Christ that He lives in us and we in Him.  What does it mean to be “in Christ”?  In its most succinct description it means that our separation has ended.  The separation that existed between us and the triune God prior to our salvation is no more.

Bill Vanderbush writes, regarding our connection to God, in the appendix to The Forgotten Way, “If you believe you are separated from your Father as a Christian, you will interpret the Bible through the lens of that broken and fragile relationship.”  How many of us feel – though secure in our initial salvation – that our current connection to the Father is broken, or at best fragile?  How many of us have been taught to strive harder to gain God’s approval or are walking on eggshells to protect ourselves from losing it?  And may I say with sadness that there is plenty of Bible teaching today wrapped around the idea that we as believers are still separated from our Father.

I believe there are two prominent camps that exploit this misunderstanding about our perceived separation from God.  The first group are the legalists who compel us to close the separation between us and God by working harder.  If you try harder to keep the rules, if you move up their ladder to a higher level of righteousness, if you follow their set formula, you can close the gap.  But how much “work” is needed to close the gap and will it ever be enough?  Can the gap even be completely closed?  Or can we only move somewhat closer to an ever changing target, never fully confident in our connection to our heavenly Father?

This kind of effort leads straight to a self-righteousness that Christ condemned.  It looks down on others who are not keeping up.  It leads to pride when we are doing well, and shame when we inevitably fail.  Eventually that failure, rather than spurring us on to new effort, actually causes us to give up.  It puts all the burden for the relationship on our efforts to fly right.  It replaces Christ’s work with our prideful effort.  And in doing so, it misses the mark of all that Christ accomplished when He died in our place.

The second group gets us closer to the mark.  It is hard to wrap a name around this group of teachers that I refer to as Reformed, or Gospel Coalition types, or “gospel-centered” writers.  These teachers rightly point out that our separation from God cannot be closed by self-effort.  They see us separated from a holy God, but by God’s grace that separation is covered by the cross.  And it is, praise the Lord!  They are entirely correct that we are approved and accepted based on the gospel – Christ’s work on our behalf – not by our works.

Where these teachers fall short, in my opinion, is in their continuing focus on our depravity and sin even after our salvation, and little focus on the victory and power to live the life.  Yes, in theory and theology and positionally, the cross covered our separation.  But they imply that in practice, we are still pretty rotten folks; still experiencing some form of separation from God because of our sin.  Their focus always seems to be on how the gospel “covers” our sin.  But I rarely hear what Christ and the apostles highlight as the crucial next step.  That is, yes, the gospel covers our sin; but it also empowers us to live above sin, to put sin to death, to no longer obey sin as our master.  These messages of victory over sin – wrought by Christ living His life through us – seem to be in short supply.

And I think it all goes back to some thought, maybe even on a subconscious level, that we are separated from our Father.  This empty feeling may have been brought on by what we have been taught, or by our own experience with sin, or by a feeling of not being fully accepted and approved by God, or by how authorities in our lives described us, or for any number of reasons.  The bottom line is, we feel in our heart of hearts a separation.

But I proclaim to you.  The message of the New Testament is, “Your separation has ended!”  How can we be sure?  We will tackle that topic next time.

Seeing the Father in the Face of Christ

Last time we ended with the idea from II Corinthians 4 that we see the glory of God when we look into the face of Jesus.  Beyond all the wonderful descriptions of our heavenly Father that we have uncovered in the New Testament, the greatest revelation still remains in the person and work of Jesus Himself.  The best expression we find for what the Father is like is in the face of Christ.

When we look into the face of Jesus, what do we see?  We see love.  When Jesus wept for Lazarus, “The Jews were saying, ‘Behold how He loved him!’ ” (Jn 11:36).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see forgiveness.  “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son , your sins are forgiven’ ” (Mk 2:5).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see acceptance.  “And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Lk 15:2).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see compassion.  “And moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him saying, ‘Be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed” (Mk 1:41-42).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see healing.  “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Mt 4:23).

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see humility.  “Jesus rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (Jn 13:4-5).

And ultimately, when we look into the face of Jesus we see a love that sent Christ to the cross on our behalf.  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).  “But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  But the power of His love did not end at His death.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see the Son of God bursting forth from the tomb.  “And the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.  He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.  Come, see the place where He was lying.  And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead’ ” (Mt 28:5-7).

And in an incredible stroke of overwhelming blessing, we were raised with Him.  “Therefore we have been buried with Him [Jesus] through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:4-6).

Our power over sin in this present life is a direct result of our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  If you have embraced the message of the gospel, you have been united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.  And you are now infused with the power of His resurrection life.  His righteous and resurrected life flows through you.  This is what you see and what God invites you to experience when you look into the face of Jesus.

The sheer volume of all the wonderful attributes of God seen in the face of Jesus is vast and we could recount them all the way to the end of the Internet.  But we will end with one more.

Finally, when we look into the face of Jesus, we see the return of a triumphant King.  “The stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13:25-26).  Even so, come Lord Jesus!