“But when the goodness and love for man
appeared from God our Savior,
He saved us –
not by works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to His mercy,
through the washing of regeneration
and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit He poured out on us abundantly
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that having been justified by His grace,
we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:4-7 HCSB
A few months ago, I wrote an article about our ongoing ICOC 3.0 initiative, focusing on spirituality and the next generation. I am aware of some inter-generational dialogue having taken place, but it is thorny, with divergent perspectives clearly in view. I am prayerful.
On another note, in my observation, there are three big topics that may get short thrift in some of our churches, and they are spiritual intangibles, things we can’t see but are powerful motivators: grace, the Holy Spirit, and heaven. If we don’t rely on our human efforts and traditions (I call it spiritual humanism), we can find deep and powerful motivation in our relationship with God – what He has done for us (initially and continually), what He is doing in and through us, and what He will do for and with us.
I trust many of my friends, Gordon Ferguson and Doug Jacoby especially, to write and teach on each of these topics. They are trained and experienced Bible teachers and leaders in other capacities. There are dozens if not hundreds of others who are well qualified to explain the deep truths of each topic. This article is about how much we focus on grace, the Holy Spirit, and heaven, individually and corporately. I studied the Bible with a friend who became a Christian about a year ago who asked me near the end of our studies, “Do you believe in heaven?’ I said, “Yes, of course!”, and then he replied, “We haven’t talked about it and I have not heard a reference from the pulpit the last several months I have been attending.” As I reflected, I realized that heaven is something I (we?) take for granted, and it is simply too wonderful not to talk and dream about.
One reason we may be a bit tentative with these topics is that there is so much false doctrine such as cheap grace, emotionalism associated with the Holy Spirit, and bizarre and/or worldly views of heaven. But maybe another reason is that we rely too much on the flesh, on human effort, and our theology reflects it.
Some of us (me, especially) are performance-oriented and hard-working by character. I have and can do a lot to give, serve, and lead in the church. But my motivation may be perfectionism and/or the approval of others. I want to do things that are good and right but am too often driven by something that is not spiritual. Spiritually intrinsic motivation will please God. I don’t think a steady diet of worldly intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation communicates to God or others how much I love them.
“You therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 2:1
“But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me.” – 1 Corinthians 15:9
Grace makes confession of sin less difficult. Grace motivates compassion and evangelism more than the expectations of my leaders or friends. Grace motivates me to give – in secret. Grace gives me the fuel to be patient, to be humble, and to suffer. To be strong in grace is something intentional. It requires study, prayer, and conversation. It also deserves teaching and preaching – but not with so many qualifiers that we focus too much on our response, getting the cart before the horse. Let’s talk about grace more and find God’s motivation to live as followers of Jesus. God forgave me at baptism and His continual fountain of grace (1 John 1:7) forgives me every day. God’s grace also teaches me to be gracious towards others, providing a safety we all need. What’s not to talk about?!
The Holy Spirit
“’Repent’, Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” – Acts 2:38
“After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3
God has not only forgiven us but he has put His Holy Spirit in us. Let that sink in. I/we tend to focus on the negatives such as don’t quench or grieve the Spirit, or alternatively, putting on the fruits of the Spirit through human effort. Not only did we receive the gift of forgiveness, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we collectively are in step with the Spirit, amazing things can happen. Some have called Acts the Acts of the Apostles. While true, I prefer to call it the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
“As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to.’ Then, after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.” – Acts 13:2-3
When we are spiritual and in step with His Holy Spirit, He can do amazing things through us. We find the power to live as followers of Jesus.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Phil 3:20
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” – I Thessalonians 4:16-18
I introduced this topic to a group of men and women, and an evangelist confessed that though he speaks regularly on grace and the Holy Spirit, he could not remember the last time he talked about heaven. Maybe we are so concerned with matters of this world that we don’t think, talk, or dream enough about heaven.
“Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
Look! God’s dwelling is with men,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will exist no longer;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4
It’s hard not to cry tears of hope and relief while typing these words. Life is hard. There is so much pain, sorrow, and injustice. And it won’t all be made right until the end.
No more grief, crying, and pain. He will wipe the tears from our eyes. How tender, how moving, how comforting. How motivating. He has one more gift yet to give.
Our longing for heaven gives the hope we need to live as followers of Jesus.
What if we talked less about performance and more about our sin and the grace of God?
What if we decided to no longer trust in the flesh but in God’s Holy Spirit? What if we spent more of our thought lives and conversation focused on being grateful for God’s gift of His Spirit? What if we were inspired more by the Holy Spirit than the latest plan or initiative?
What if we put much less hope in this life and rested completely in our hope of heaven?
Grace, the Holy Spirit, and heaven. Thinking about these and talking about these will keep us humble and give us wonderful things to talk about with each other, our families, friends, and those we will meet. Pretty good topics for evangelism, don’t you think?
Grace, the Holy Spirit, and heaven: three incredible gifts!