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Spiritual Dynamics
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How God and People Interact and Communicate

         In the previous lesson we passed over the bridge from kerygma to didache in our consideration of the first thing a Christian truthseeker needs to learn to believe after conversion (which is to keep on believing the kerygma as one perseveres in learning God's Word (LGW).  Now let us continue our study of didachaic truths with the first thing one who is LGW ought to do in obedience to the word of the Lord after conversion.


         Jesus taught that the evidence of saving faith or love for God is working faith or helping humanity (JN 13:35, cf. Paul in RM 13:8-10).  Disciples of Jesus tend to love and help others, not by virtue of their own goodness, but because they are moved by the loving Spirit of the Lord (1JN 4:7-8).  Humans can never become good enough to earn or merit salvation as a reward for right behavior.  A person cannot be good by doing good.  Those who try to attain heaven by imitating Christ-like behavior without accepting Christ’s Lordship and righteousness actually go in the opposite direction (GL 5:4).

         No one achieves moral perfection in this life, but no one who lacks any evidence of love will reap eternal life with God (GL 6:7-8).  God's grace is free, but not cheap (MT 7:21, 2TM 2:19, TIT 1:16).  Thus, a person who claims to be godly but who is behaving in an ungodly (unloving, untruthful) manner may be in one of the following categories:

a. a normally loving person who you observed on the very rare moment when he/she acted uncharacteristically (PHP 3:12-16),

b. an immature Believer, who is making progress--you should have known him/her a year ago! (1CR 3:1-3, EPH 4:11-15)

c. a truthseeker who has not yet learned the right interpretation of God's Word (1CR 6:9-11, EPH 5:8-9), or

d. a pseudo-Christian (MT 7:21), who may affirm morality while rejecting its divine rationale.

  
        
Paul listed some sins he implied bona-fide Christians would not typically commit (in 1CR 6:9-10), saying:  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”   Apparently, although genuine Christians might commit such sins occasionally, it is inconceivable (because antithetical to their faith) that they would commit them so typically that the person could be classified as an adulterer, for example.  Atheists might try to practice the "Golden Rule", but the key issue for them on judgment day will be explaining what good reason they had for rejecting God rather than glorifying Him as the One who determines what is good/golden.

Sinners can overcome selfishness only by becoming one with Christ via faith in Him/God as Lord and thereby sharing His goodness because of union with His/God’s Holy Spirit.  This spiritual union (or marriage) is denoted by references to believers [those who have saving faith] as children of God the Father (RM 8:14-16) and the body or bride of Christ (1CR 12:27, RV 21:9).  This is why Christianity is a relationship with God motivated by gratitude for God’s grace (PS 100, EPH 2:4-8) rather than a legalistic religion of working to merit God’s mercy because of fear of punishment.

 

I will now attempt to explain as clearly and succinctly as I can the dynamics of the relationship between God and truthseekers.  I believe humans are born innocent, like Adam and Eve, with the potential to attain the stage of accountability, comparable to when God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (GN 2:17).  At this stage, a person’s interaction with the Spirit of God begins, because he/she has become a living soul or embodied mind/spirit (GN 2:7).  (The spiritual status of humans before they reach the stage of moral accountability is not clearly explained in Scripture.  Certainly, if they died during that time, they would not go to hell, but it is unclear on what basis their destiny would be heaven.  Perhaps they simply cease to exist.)

  

A person’s fellowship with God begins in a primitive and impersonal way when a soul becomes a truthseeker, because God’s Spirit is truth (1JN 5:6).  The commitment to seek and have faith in the truth as revealed is a primitive “pre-theistic” satisfaction of GRS (MT 7:7), thus the person begins a saving relationship with God although he/she does not know it (RM 1:17).  As a truthseeker at any time in history and place in the world meditates upon his/her experiences, Paul indicates that they will be able to discern God’s being and love (RM 1:20, 2:14-15, GL 5:14) by means of what theologians call “natural or general revelation”.
 

When truthseekers recognize the reality of God as the sentient and personal Creator of the universe who has a moral requirement, if they decide to become theists and worship Him, they become like Abraham and the other OT believers, and their fellowship continues and deepens or becomes personal.  Presumably, God provides such believers the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ in a pre-NT form (1PT 3:19, CL 1:23) [cf. HD#14 in Lesson 11], so they may accept the pre-incarnate Christ as Lord (JN 8:42, 1JN 1:3-4), at which moment God’s Holy Spirit enters their spiritual hearts (RV 3:20), uniting them with God as heavenly Father (RM 8:9) and identifying them with Christ’s worldwide/catholic body or church (CL 1:18).  This manifold event is called spiritual baptism (1CR 12:13).  We can infer that this dynamic occurs also for pre-NT believers without them realizing it, because there is no salvation outside of Christ’s ekklesia or church (ACTS 4:12).  Of course, their partial knowledge of God’s Word will limit their ability to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit.  Thus, there is a need for evangelism (MT 28:18-20) and also for lifelong discipleship or training (2TM 3:16-17).

 

            A problem arises from the fact that in Ephesians 4:5 Paul says there is only one baptism.  However, elsewhere the Bible seems to refer to two types of baptism:  one by water and another by the Holy Spirit.  In His “Great Commission” Jesus tied saving faith closely to the work of water baptism when He said “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (MT 28:19).  Yet, in 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul wrote that “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.”  This suggests that spirit baptism occurs at the moment of conversion, when the Holy Spirit unites the new saint (saved sinner/soul) with Christ, because “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (RM 8:9) 

 

The problem can be resolved by understanding that the two types of baptism may be essentially united if baptism with water is viewed as a symbolic way of portraying baptism by the Holy Spirit.  The details for this work/rite are vague, but the mode of immersion best portrays a Believer’s spiritual union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection to eternal life (CL 2:12, RM 6:4).  As a practical matter, a new Believer normally would be baptized by the local congregation of the catholic (worldwide) church in which he/she will want to participate as an acknowledged member.  Without mentioning water baptism, Paul said in RM 10:9-10 that a convert should confess saving faith “with your mouth” in order to be saved, which indicates that confession should precede water baptism and that infant baptism is inappropriate.  Both outward confession and water baptism may be seen as works manifesting love for God that every Believer will want to perform following his/her decision to have saving faith.  As soon as possible a new disciple of Christ should confess his/her faith in the Lord verbally and by following His example (MT 3:13-15) and obeying His command to be baptized in water (ACTS 2:38).  However, we should not say “must” regarding the rite of water baptism, because Paul said that God did not send him to baptize, presumably referring to water (1CR 1:17), and nowhere did he command water baptism but rather referred to spiritual baptism as the "one baptism" (see above and 1CR 12:13), which implies that he considered the command of Jesus to be meant spiritually essentially (MT 28:19, cf. ACTS 1:5), and Peter's reiteration implying water (ACTS 2:38) as meant merely symbolically and part of Jewish tradition.

             The relationship between Christians and God may be viewed as having three stages.  The first stage is the moment of conversion or repentance (ACTS 20:21) just mentioned, when a person “plugs in” to the power of God’s Holy Spirit by consciously accepting Christ Jesus as Lord.  For Christians, this stage occurred in the past historically and grammatically; we were saved when we repented and accepted Christ.  Because a person’s commitment to Christ is in accordance with God’s perfect will and the response of yielding to His calling (1TM 2:3-4), the moment of spiritual baptism fulfills the command of Ephesians 5:18 to be filled (cooperate fully) with the Spirit.  Again, the beginning of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit may also be called the initial filling by the Holy Spirit, because at the point of confession and conversion a person is cooperating fully with God (cf. RM 6:3-7, GL 2:20).  The evidence that a person has been baptized by God's Spirit or included in Christ's spiritual body is love in its myriad of forms of expression (GL 5:22-23, JN 13:35, cf. HD#10).

            The second stage of a person's fellowship with God is lifelong spiritual growth on earth.  Paul calls it (in RM 12:2) being “transformed by the renewing of your mind”, and it is also referred to as maturation (EPH 4:13), discipleship (ACTS 14:22) or sanctification (2THS 2:13).  Grammatically it is present progressive, and historically it is the process of being saved moment by moment.  This stage of becoming new and improved versions of ourselves includes initial spiritual instability, decrease in sinning and eventual maturity.  Although a new Spirit-filled convert has access to all of the power he/she needs for loving like Christ (EPH 3:16-19), no one attains immediate perfection by remaining filled with the Holy Spirit forever.  Instead, the combination of temptations, ignorance and the old selfish nature results in immature saints freely committing their first post-conversion sin(s). Then he/she no longer is spiritual or filled with the Holy Spirit but rather is acting like unsaved and unloving sinners/ Unbelievers (1CR 3:1).  This “venial” type of sin is qualitatively different from the sin of Unbelief in God, which is “mortal” or damning if not confessed (repented of) before death (JM 1:15).  [This distinction is signified by the capital "U" and little "s".  "Believers" is spelled with a capital "B" to remind the reader that atheists also operate by faith.]  As soon as a Christian realizes a sin was committed, he/she should confess it (1JN 1:9) rather than compound it by trying to hide it or cover it up like Adam and Eve did (GN 3:7-8).  Then God will forgive even sins that are unrecognized, and the saint will again be in a Spirit-filled or spiritual condition.  This spiritual flip-flopping might happen once a day or even several times an hour.  While this instability may be bad, failure to confess promptly is much worse, because it results in chain-sinning or back-sliding.  This condition is also referred to as being carnal/worldly (1CR 3:1) or prodigal (LK 15:13), if it continues very long.  Admitting sins or having “guilt trips” gets a "bad rap" by some people, but what truly is bad is whatever one is doing that makes one feel guilty.  Hopefully, one never reaches the point where no guilt is felt when wrong is done.  Guilt is like a warning light on a car’s instrument panel that lets one know something is wrong.  Until we have the wisdom to welcome God’s so-called “guilt trips” like we do warning lights, we will never feel the joy of salvation fully. 

 

             God's goal for Believers' spiritual growth per Paul in EPH 4:11-13 is corporate unity and individual maturity, which is signified in the Bible (especially the King James Version) by the phrase “walking with God”.  Genesis 5:24 describes Enoch as a man who walked with God, and the apostle Paul described the goal of Christians (the fullness of Christ) as walking with God (RM 6:4, GL 5:16, EPH 4:1, 1THS 4:1).   Elsewhere the continually (ideally) Spirit-filled condition is referred to as walking:  in light (1JN 1:7), in love (EPH 5:2), in a new life (RM 6:4), according to the Spirit (RM 8:4), and in good works (CL 1:10).  Thus, as stated previously the outward evidence that someone is Spirit-filled (EPH 5:18) or walking with God is the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit or fullness of Christ (EPH 3:19, 4:13), which consists of such attributes as those listed in Galatians 5:22-23:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Jesus said “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (JN13:35).  In addition to presenting the Gospel, NT writers teach converts how to become new/loving, such as Paul's  instructions in EPH 4:1-16, and so we will discuss this more after briefly considering the third stage of salvation. 

The third stage of a Christian’s relationship with God, called glorification (1PT 5:10) or immortality (1CR 15:53), occurs in heaven, when Believers will walk with God perfectly and eternally.  Of course, grammatically and historically, this stage is in the future.  Somehow, in heaven saints will be both free to sin and free of/from sin, perhaps because they will have perfect/permanent memories of the lessons learned in this earthly life (2PT 1:12-15), which will enable them to appreciate the joy, love and related blessings of heaven forever.  The Bible does not reveal much more detail about this stage beyond Paul referring to souls as having some sort of glorified immortal body, so I will refrain from speculating other than saying that if heaven is at least as good as an earthly Eden before the Fall, then it will be beautiful to explore and not at all boring for at least the first aeon.  I might even try some extreme sports!  :^)

 

The remainder of this lesson will elaborate on walking with God during the second stage of salvation.  Like physical walking, spiritual walking has two steps.  Another apt analogy is the act of breathing.  The meaning of both analogies is simply communion or communication with God’s Holy Spirit.  The first step or inhale is listening to God (LGW), and the second step or exhale is responding to or cooperating with God.  God’s message for mankind is revealed partially by the world He has created but more fully by the Scriptures He has inspired.  The crux of God’s Word is the Gospel of salvation (kerygma), while the secondary teachings (didache) consist of the manifold applications of the law of love (1JN 3:11).  [See Lesson 3.]  The Believer’s main types of responses are prayer to God and good works unto others for God (1JN 4:20, EPH 2:10).  At this point let us consider the doctrine of prayer.

 

The key response that is necessary in order for a saved sinner to walk with the Holy God is the prayer of confession of guilt (1JN 1:9, PS 32:1-5).  Prayer is simply talking to God.  We have already noted that from the moment of repentance onward, whenever a Believer acknowledges to God his/her known sins of immoral attitudes and actions, God forgives all sins (1JN 1:9b), which means he/she is pleasing rather than grieving God or once again is Spirit-filled (walking in the Spirit) and has a right relationship with Christ Jesus (EPH 4:30, 5:10 & 18).  Paul exhorted Believers (in EPH 6:18) to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  Let us consider other kinds of prayers/thoughts a Believer might address to God in addition to confession of sin/guilt. 

 

When an Unbeliever repents and receives Christ’s Holy Spirit, or when a Believer confesses a sin and is refilled by the Spirit, he/she experiences divine love, joy and peace (GL 5:22-23), which surely will prompt a prayer giving thanks.  Jesus led a prayer of thanksgiving during the Last Supper (1CR 11:23-24).  Paul frequently expressed thankfulness for believers he had helped to convert and who had helped support his ministry (1THS 1:2, PHP 1:3).  He instructed Believers to “Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1THS 5:17-18)  A third type of prayer is praise, which is akin to thanksgiving and expresses love and glory to God for who He is and what He means to us.  Numerous Psalms express this type of prayer, from 9:1-2 to 150:1-6.  Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice [prayer] of praise.”  Revelation 5:13 refers to prayers of praise in heaven:  “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth . . . singing:  To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

 

A fourth and fifth kinds of prayer are also closely related.  Petition may be the most used and least understood type.  The Lord’s Sample Prayer (MT 6:9-13) has a series of petitions.  In Philippians 4:6 Paul taught:  “By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  A petition in which we ask God for something on behalf of another person is called intercession.  Paul frequently prayed for others (EPH 1:16-18, PHP 1:3-4&9, CL 1:3&9, cf. the item in Lesson 18), and he asked believers to pray for him (EPH 6:18-20, CL 4:3-4, 1TM 2:1, 2THS 3:1).  The privilege of petitioning God should not be viewed as a blank check, nor is the primary purpose of prayer to persuade God to do our will like a genie.  Rather, in prayer we should express our agreement with the perfect will of God.  As 1 John 5:14 says, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Although agreement with God is not always mentioned in biblical passages about prayer (cf. EPH 3:20, JN 16:23), Jesus exemplified the "Thy will be done" principle when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (MT 26:36-46).  Again, we should approach God’s “throne of grace” (HB 4:16) not to ask Him to do some good He otherwise would not do, but rather to remind ourselves of His presence and that He is the source of all blessings (JM 1:17).  In order to pray in accordance with God’s will, we must know God's Word (JN 15:7).  Like bread and butter or romantic love and spiritual marriage, prayer and LGW go together.

 

God may answer a petition in one of four main ways:  1. He may grant it as requested (1KG 18:37-39), 2. He may grant the underlying desire in a way different than requested (GN 17:18-19), 3. He may grant the request, but it will not satisfy our desire (NM 11:4-34, PS 106:15), and 4. God may say “no” or “not yet”, perhaps to teach us to persevere in faith (JM 1:6-8, MT 21:21-22), to grow in love (1JN 3:21-23, PR 21:13, JOB 35:12-13), and to cease sinning, such as causing marital strife (1PT 3:7) and being selfish (JM 4:3).  Again, discussion of prayer petitions should stress that we may need to spend less time praying for our will to be done and simply pray for God's will to be accomplished in our life (as Jesus did in Gethsemane).  Unfortunately, too many prayer groups fail to ponder the fact that as mortals we will become sick and die, so the focus of prayers should be for wisdom and strength to do God's will while we are alive rather than for God to make doctors unnecessary this side of the resurrection.  

 

           The biblical teachings about prayer may be summarized as follows:


1.  The most important type of prayer is repentance/confession of Sin and then sins (1JN 1:9), so that our relationship with God is right (EPH 6:18) and we can pray about other matters.

2.  Talking to God is the second step in walking with God.  The first step is listening to God (LGW) and thereby knowing how we should walk and talk (1THS 4:1, EPH 5:8-10).

3.  Knowing God’s will is necessary in order for us to be more specific than “Thy will be done.”  Much of God’s will is prescriptive or stated in clear moral teachings such as the Ten Commandments (EX 20:1-17, MT 19:17-21, GL 5:22-23).  We need to live “up to what we have already attained” (PHP 3:16) or learned regarding our own needs rather than worry about the mote in someone else’s eye (MT 7:4).

4.  The fact and frequency of our prayers is more important to God than the accuracy of the wording (EPH 6:18a, 1THS 5:17, RM 8:26-27).  Not praying would be like giving God “the silent treatment”.

5.  Following scriptural examples of prayer (Jesus in JN 17; Paul in the "prison epistles"--again, cf. Lesson 18), it seems that intercession should be our most frequent type of petition (EPH 6:18b) beyond desiring "Thy will be done" and the basic necessities such as "bread" per the Lord's "Model Prayer" (MT 6:9-13). 

6.  Believers should not refer to "the power of prayer" without crediting God, whose love is perfect; neither should they talk as though God would not act/do any good if they did not pray!

In brief, prayer is like surfing:  One does not need to ask God to send waves, but rather request readiness to ride them.
 

 

We have discussed prayer.  Now let us briefly consider the second main type of response by a believer in God's Word who is walking with God, the doctrine of working faith or good works or righteousness.  Saints should seek to become morally perfect (MT 5:48) or pure (PHP 1:10& 2:15) or spiritually mature (EPH 4:13, PHP 3:12-15), which means to remain filled by or to be in step with the Holy Spirit (GL 5:25) more and more of the time (PHP 1:9, 1THS 4:1 &10).  In order to grow spiritually we must pray continually (1THS 5:17) or persevere in admitting our sins (called humility) so that we will be teachable or open to LGW for our lives, which is necessary in order to know how to cooperate fully with His Holy Spirit (HB 5:11-6:1).  As stated before, the outward evidence that someone walking with God or is Spirit-filled (EPH 5:18) is the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit or fullness of Christ (EPH 3:19, 4:13), which consists of such attributes as those listed in Galatians 5:22-23:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Jesus said “All men will know that you are my disciples [learners of GW] if you love one another” (JN13:35), because “love” sums up the moral character of God/GW (1JN 4:7-8).  Someone who does not hunger and thirst after righteousness (MT 5:6) or desire to LGW (PS 119:9) needs to reevaluate the sincerity of his/her profession of faith in the Lord.  As Paul says (in 2CR 13:5), “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.”  We see that God’s goal for our faith is attaining Christ-like moral maturity and spiritual unity, so God’s will is resisted or contradicted by people who have a judgmental and divisive spirit rather than God’s loving or Holy Spirit.  Jesus warned against having this evil spirit early in his ministry (MT 7:1-5&21).  Also near the end of his earthly life, Jesus prayed for godly unity (JN 17:20-23).  It is up to each of us to cooperate with God in answering this prayer. 

 

            Again, the usual or "normative" way God has chosen to answer our prayers for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth in our lifetime is not by performing miracles but by partaking of the bread of truth (MT 6:10-11).  We cannot live by physical bread alone; our souls need every word God speaks (MT 4:4).  Jesus said that He is God’s way and the word/bread of life (JN 14:6, 6:35&63).  He also said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (JN 14:23)  In order to obey, we must learn, even as Jesus did (HB 5:8).  This is the reason Believers should attend a local church (fellowship) where the pastor/lead learner is a good Bible teacher (HB 10:25, RM 10:14).  The numerous practical problems we experience in this pre-heavenly life—poverty, war, disease, divorce, crime and so forth—find their solution to the extent that as many people as possible LGW and obey God's will as soon as possible.  The spiritual beauty of God’s truth is as awe-inspiring or attractive as the physical beauty of God’s world for one who has the Spirit/mind of Christ (1CR 2:12-16).  We will consider the biblical topic of church in the next lesson.