Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain. Psalm 127:1
One of the great spiritual problems with the human creature is that God keeps doing great things in us, with us, and for us, but we can't for a minute let go of the idea that we are doing it on our own naked choices, by the strengths we have in us. Mind you, we have many strengths, but our weaknesses are such that the moment we choose to stand on our strengths, we fall down. The weaknesses, ultimately, go right down into the core of our strivings, making even the effort to stand or to move yet one more force disbalancing us and toppling us. Yet we try again and again and again. Some have tried to get us to work at standing together as a team (social/political utopian ideologies do this). The result looks likes a chorus line of plastered drunks swinging and swaying, going in circles, getting nothing done. When it comes to being good, we just don't get it. We can't know or learn the darkness away. We can't power it away,
wish it away, wash it away, discipline it away, theologize it away, pray it away, sing it away, explain it away, define it away, or pretend it away. God has given everyone tools to lessen parts of the darkness, but it's still very much there. And God doesn't promise it won't be. Instead, God gives us an entirely different way of facing it.
We're lucky to have a God who can laugh over the pitiable scene. We're fortunate enough to have a God who cries over the frustrations we feel as we struggle. We're blessed enough to have a God who takes action to steady us. be strength for us, and build strength into us. Of course, God's actions do little good for someone who likes stumbling or tries to stay in the gutter, to those too proud to rely on anyone else, to those who blame everyone else, or to those who prefer to just lay there. But to those who let God be their strength, those who trust God enough to walk the Savior's walk, the Spirit will take you through it. It's the start of a whole new life. A whole New You!
How God Makes You Godly
This inner change is not what restores one's relationship with God; Christ did that. The inner change is an effect of what Christ did. Our opening up to Christ is something that is done solely by the Holy Spirit who brings Christ to us through the Good News. Upon doing this, the Spirit starts to re-create you: a New You, being remade to have the holy character of Christ. Or, in church-words, sanctification - making you more fully holy. This New You, empowered with new gifts from the Spirit, willingly works with the Holy Spirit on this re-making project, in a manner not unlike an inexperienced new hire doing what the foreman orders. The Old You is still in there, fighting these changes every step of the way, but the New You co-operates with the Spirit. A person spends their whole life in this struggle, and the work still has a ways to go at the time of death. If we are holy at all, it is Christ's holiness alone that we wear, not our own. But that never leaves us as we were. The sanctified life (the life lived holy) starts from a moment from the past, but grows over a lifetime.
What we have now from God is just a hint of what is to come. And what we are now is just a hint of what the Spirit is making us into. It is a constant spiritual struggle that is being waged at any and just about every moment within the human being.
Good, But Still Quite Broken
Some Protestants have a bad habit of describing the New You in such a way that it seems like a wimp and a weakling next to the athletic Old You which Luther noted to be 'a good swimmer'. But that's not the case. You were quite good to begin with, and the Holy Spirit knows how to rebuild a person. If it doesn't seem like it, perhaps it's because the Old You (also called 'Old Adam', 'Old Man', or 'Old Self'), your old way of looking at things, in which the whole world revolves around you, puts all its strength on the line in the desperate struggle to be in charge. It may also be because of the Western cultural confusion between service and servitude. In service, the server deliberately works on behalf of or for the benefit of someone else or some other purpose than one's self. In servitude, the server works as an act of forced submission, which renders the server as a tool to command. The New You is in service, not servitude.
The Spirit works to make progress in us, to sanctify us. On occasion, the change in us is revolutionary and breathtaking in speed and depth. Usually, it is slow, building one action onto another, invigorating and mutating our entire life and being. Sometimes, the sanctifying steps are quite conscious and deliberate on our part: we decide to turn things over to God piece by piece as we become aware of the need to do so. Sometimes, the Spirit works overtime, striving to reveal to us where we are still trying to run the show. It is in this process of letting go of what you were, letting go of the unsanctified, un-enhanced Old You, that the New You works with the Spirit. Here is where the
spiritual disciplines and practices are a help. back to the Top
"The old Adam does not die from the infirmities of old age."
--- Jakob Traalsdahl
You're A Person, Not a Sloth
Some people turn this truth about the Spirit doing the work of inner change into an excuse for spiritual laziness. "Oh, God will do it!", they say. But :
God wants you to do what you're responsible for;
God wants you to deal with life as far as you can. Unless you do, you'll spiritually shrink, and the New You wouldn't really be you.
God wants you to learn how to work with the Spirit.
God's work happens not only to you, but through you -- God wants you to take part in that work.
When the Spirit shows you something from your devotions and disciplines and such, something else comes with it: a call to do (or be) something because of what you're shown.
Thus, God-pleasing spirituality is not an escape. God won't allow it. If spirituality is used to escape action or real thinking, then it misses the whole point. Christian spirituality is about changing us into citizens of the Kingdom who live in this life as Christ's followers.
What Sanctifies Us?
The Reformation era had some rather extreme spiritualists. Some were dualists and synergists. For instance, Karlstadt claimed that Scripture wasn't really needed, just the Spirit's inner voice telling us of what is good. This gives us enough of a role to enable its ultimate failure. Muntzer said that those who didn't have such inner discernment were of the devil. Such a stark divider between good and evil is the mark of a dualist. They saw salvation as a process of actions which make us become ever more like God.
Synergists believe that human beings have a limited but nonetheless natural -- not Spirit-given -- capacity to work with God to make themself holy. For them, the Spirit helps us to make ourselves like Christ in this life. This makes salvation at least partly into a work of the human will rather than solely a free gift of grace from the only One who is able to sanctify - God. Synergism may convey what a person senses is happening to them, but it does not convey what is actually happening. It's what inner change looks like from where we're sitting. But we're too close to what's going on to be able to see the real picture. To get beyond this, we must get outside of ourselves, and into the full Scriptural vision of what God is working toward.
Luther went a very different way from Karlstadt or Muntzer. He went back to the basics of the faith and worked forward from there. What the Holy Spirit gives us is not some magical power or method or tool which morphs us into clones of Christ, nor is it magically implanting God's thoughts in place of yours. Instead, the Spirit gives us Jesus Christ Himself, which means that we have Christ'srighteousness in us, so we can say with Paul that "it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me". This divine nearness or presence is what transforms (sanctifies) us into what Christ calls us to be. And that presence itself is gift, not work.
"The holy life is the grace of forgiveness transformed into reality." Fredrik Wisloff, *I Believe In the Holy
"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one." Elbert Hubbard
"We are all full of fine talk about how desperately our society needs it, but, when push comes to shove, we would just as soon be on the winning side." Stephen L. Carter, about integrity
"Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest." Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
"Every believer must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst his fellow human beings: and he will be this all the more perfectly the more closely he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace between humans unless there is peace within each one of them" Pope John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli), Pacem in Terris, p. 164-165, 1963.
"A Christian should always remember that the value of his good works is not based on their number and excellence, but on the love of God which prompts him to do these things." John of the Cross (Juan de Yepes y Álvarez)
Come, Holy Spirit,
Come on the winds and cleanse us,
Come in the fire and burn,
Come on the waves and wash our sins away.
Come, Holy Spirit,
come and convict us
come and convince us
come and convert us.
------- "Come, Holy Spirit", by Linda Snow
Once you begin being naughty, it is easier to go on and on, and sooner or later something dreadful happens. Laura Ingalls Wilder, *On the Banks Of Plum Creek*
"Conscience: the inner voice which warns us that somebody may be looking." H.L. Mencken, in *A Little Book in C Major*. (Mencken turned grumpy cynicism into an art form.)
"Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time." H.L. Mencken
"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." G.K. Chesterton, *A Short History of England*
"O Lord, do not turn me away, lowly as I am, ashamed! Send upon me the grace of the Holy Spirit: make me worthy to stand before your holy altar!" Gregory of Nazianzos
The Holy Spirit of grace desires to disturb your sleep. Blessed are you if you awaken. Lars Linderot, cited in Wisloff, *I Believe In the Holy Spirit*
Revenge is often like biting a dog because the dog bit you. Austin O'Malley
The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God. Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely. Richard Foster, *Celebration Of Discipline* 2nd ed. (Harper, 1988), p.21
Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life . Thomas Merton, *Contemplative Prayer*
(Doubleday, 1969), p.39
By means of the imagination, we confine our mind within the mystery on which we meditate, that it may not ramble to and fro...
Francis de Sales, *Introduction To the Devout Life*