My last few posts have explored the Christian understanding of spirit as heart, mind, will, and character—the essence of personhood.
Spirit can be regarded as a force. I don’t mean an impersonal force like gravity or weather, but a personal force that can know and be known. It can act, interact, choose, and do work as a force for good or evil.
Further, spirit is a force whether housed in an earthly body or not. Paul, for example, alludes to some kind of spiritual body that has substance (1Cor. 15:44). Verses all through the OT and NT consistently describe an active spirit world teeming with angels and other beings who carry out various tasks and deeds.
To put it another way, spirit has power. This is true of God’s Spirit, your spirit, and mine. While God is omnipotent and we’re not, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless.
The most elementary, God-given power our spirits have is the power to exercise the will and the power to change. We can change our minds, which changes our hearts, which changes character, which changes action, which changes our lives. This process, of course, is called repentance, a power that God never takes away.
In fact, He allows us to exercise our wills any way we choose. If you doubt this, look no further than the recent tragedy in a Colorado movie theater. And history offers plenty more examples. Evil persists precisely because the human spirit, both individually and collectively, doesn’t yet fully match God’s Spirit.
Secrets of the Kingdom
God wants to give more power, but only to those He can trust to safely use the power He’s already given. This is why heart, mind, will, and character are so closely tied to governing and care-taking, or, in biblical language, kingdoms and rulership. Jesus teaches to seek first the kingdom of heaven, and everything else will be added.
Whether we realize it or not, we’re already ruling because we all have charge of something—a family, a pet, a job, or at minimum, our own spirits. We may or may not be doing it well, but we’re ruling nonetheless. The idea is to do it in sync with the dynamic movements and vision of God. As Paul put it, we keep in step with the Spirit because we live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
Once we see rulership as nothing fancier than exercising one’s will, other pieces start to fall into place. We begin to see how pride, love, God’s Law, Christ-like human virtue, and sin relate. With power comes responsibility, so the goal is to exercise the will in sound, trustworthy ways that love God, self, and neighbor.
This Includes Enemies, Rivals, and “Jerks”
The opposite of love isn’t hatred; it’s pride. Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having your way, while love is the pre-disposition to not do that. Hence, Paul’s famous line that love isn’t proud, boastful, envious, or impatient (1Cor. 13:4). A loving spirit can thus hate evil without imposing itself or trumpeting its rightness.
The power of spirit is often confused with willpower, but they’re very different. For example, I can hate something you do, yet genuinely love you by not insisting you do things my way even when I’m right. A rich, loving spirit can afford to be wronged. This conforms to God’s Spirit, to the way He exercises His will and rules His kingdom.
But if I use willpower to merely grit my teeth when you do what I hate, that’s not true conformation to God’s will because my true will is to chew you out, or maybe something worse. Little do I suspect that a prideful spirit lurks behind a dishonest, surface image constructed only of willpower. And my unloving character will soon manifest whether I want it to or not.
The Substance of Life
Unfortunately, most of us have tried to love our neighbors by using willpower, which is full of pride but no staying power. Then we wonder why we can’t keep it up, why relationships suffer, or why God simply doesn’t make us more loving. We either confess failure or try to muster up more “faith.”
The problem is that sincere Christians (including me) are taught that conformation and transformation happen solely by God’s Spirit acting upon people. But if that were true, we wouldn’t continually struggle to manifest His Spirit and will. It would just happen. Some might argue that the power of sin keeps us struggling, which is partially true but begs the question: Is sin, then, more powerful than God? Is Jesus the Way, the Truth, and Life or isn’t he?
Deep, genuine conformation happens when the Holy Spirit works with people who faithfully practice Jesus’ commands and lessons. It’s how we become a force for good, increasingly “fit” to reign with Christ in the spirit of God’s way in this world and the next.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luk. 16:10) The awesome bottom line I’ve discovered is that God adds unto each of us as we learn to exercise our wills safely, free of demands, threats, or abuse. Between His Spirit and ours, we can repent because we have more than enough power to change! It’s only a matter of following His plan.
**On a related note, rest is as important as practice, but I tend to forget this. So, in the spirit of Sabbath rest and refreshment, I’ll be taking a two-week break from writing and will “see” you in three weeks.