Life in the Spirit
‘I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour: and had it been possible, I was willing to pay God for doing so.’ So wrote Evan Roberts, the man at the centre of the Welsh revival of 1904–1905. He spoke about how the Spirit of God gave him an overwhelming experience of God’s love. He was filled with compassion and a desire to tell others about Jesus.
We live in the age of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came on particular people at particular times for particular purposes. We see an example of this in today’s reading in Isaiah, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the prophet (Isaiah 61). This event was a foretaste of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus (Luke 4:14–18), as well as of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all Christians, from the day of Pentecost onwards.
In the Old Testament passage for today, we read more about what living in the Spirit means. The book of Proverbs anticipates what life in the Spirit should look like. Then, in the New Testament, we see its fulfilment: what life in the Spirit means for an individual and for the church.
1. A wise life
What does a wise lifestyle look like? How do we ‘become wise’ and point our ‘lives in the right direction’ (v.19, MSG)? The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2, Ephesians 1:17). Living according to the Spirit of wisdom and understanding means taking care over:
- What you eat and drink
‘Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk; don’t eat too much food and get fat’ (Proverbs 23:20, MSG). We are to be neither ‘drunks’ nor ‘gluttons’ (v.21, MSG).
- Whom you listen to
‘Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her’ (v.22, MSG). Respect for parents is the mark of wisdom. Wise children should make their parents proud of them (vv.24–25, MSG).
- How you learn
An inquisitive mind is the mark of the Spirit of wisdom: ‘Buy truth … buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight’ (vv.23, MSG). The Spirit of wisdom gives you a hunger for truth and knowledge.
- What you think about
What we think in our hearts we become. ‘My child, give me your heart’ (v.26a). This is where everything starts. You need to guard your heart and your mind.
- What you look at
‘Let your eyes keep to my ways’ (v.26b). Watching what you look at is one of the ways to guard against promiscuity and immorality (vv.27–28).
Lord, help me to live according to the Spirit of wisdom – to be careful about what I eat and drink, whom I listen to, how I learn, what I think about and what I look at. May my life be honouring to Jesus.
A ‘healthy’ life
What are the characteristics of a healthy church? Paul tells us how the church can grow up ‘healthy in God’ (v.16, MSG).
The Holy Spirit unites the church (v.16). The church is one: ‘There is one body and oneSpirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith,one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (vv.4–6).
While the church sometimes appears disunited in practice, Paul urges us to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (v.3). We need to strive to make the invisible unity of the one church visible at every level, within local churches, between churches and amongst all denominations.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed that the church would be one in order that the world might believe (John 17:21–23).This unity is founded in God’s unity, so it can never be at the expense of truth (vv.17,23). We must continue to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). As John Stott writes, ‘Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth.’ However, the visible unity of the church should always be our aim.
Paul describes characteristics that help this unity: ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’ (v.2).
Unity does not mean uniformity. The Holy Spirit brings both unity and diversity. Paul goes on to say, ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it’ (v.7).
Jesus has ‘ascended higher than all the heavens’ (v.10). But he has also returned to the earth in the person of the Holy Spirit, through whom different gifts are now given to each of us in the church (vv.10–12).
Every single person in the church is a minister (vv.11–12). You are a minister. The word for service means ‘ministry’. We are all given different gifts.
The purpose of these gifts is that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reachunity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming mature as we attain the complete measure of the fullness of Christ.
It is not enough to get older; we need to grow up in spiritual maturity through growing in our relationship with Jesus.
Healthy children grow. Healthy churches grow in number and depth. Church growth should be natural. This is a beautiful picture of how we each play our own part in the growth of the body of Christ: ‘Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work’ (vv.15–16).
Lord, help us to be a healthy church. May we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. May there be unity in our local church and in the church worldwide.
Help each of us in the body of Christ to exercise the gifts that you have given us and to be released into the ministry to which you have called us. Help each of us to grow into a mature knowledge of Jesus in a healthy, growing church.
3. An anointed life
Jesus announced his manifesto for his ministry and kingdom by reading from Isaiah 61. It is an audacious and revolutionary manifesto – and we have a part to play in bringing it about.
Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling it, he found the place in today’s passage where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Isaiah 61:1–2, Luke 4:18–19).
He said to those there, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (v.21). What does Jesus’ manifesto involve?
- Transforming lives
When you encounter Jesus, a great exchange takes place in your life. He takes your sin and gives you his righteousness. He gives freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind and release for the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1–3). He bestows on you ‘a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’ (v.3).
- Transforming relationships
Jesus uses the analogy of marriage: ‘As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you’ (62:5b). Marriage is meant to point people to relationship with God. A strong society is built on strong families. Strong families are built on strong marriages.
- Transforming culture
Cities tend to be the source of culture. Isaiah declares, ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations’ (61:4). The manifesto of Jesus involves the transformation of the mountains of influence: the market place, government, education, media, arts and entertainment.
- Transforming society
A transformed society will involve dealing with issues of poverty. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor (v.1b).It will also involve issues of justice. So much of the world’s suffering is caused by injustice. ‘For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity’ (v.8a).
- Transforming leadership
Leadership is key in any society. ‘You’ll have the title “Priests of God,” honoured as ministers of our God’ (v.6, MSG).
Lord, thank you so much that you anoint me by your Holy Spirit to pursue the manifesto of Jesus. Help me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up those who are broken hearted and to proclaim freedom for those who are held captive – both literally and metaphorically. Help me comfort those who mourn. Help me to see lives transformed from ashes to beauty, from mourning to gladness and from despair to praise.
-Taken from ‘ Bible In One Year’ by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. Nicky Gumbel is the Vicar of HTB in London and pioneer of Alpha.