Sunday Message, 8th May: Spirit Without Measure 2
To Make us More Like Jesus
Galatians 5:22-25, John 3:27-30
In this series we are seeking to open ourselves afresh to the difference the Holy Spirit makes, what He does, and how his unique touch creates the Body of Christ. Last week we saw how Father, Son & Holy Spirit give extravagant experiential gifts all with the sole purpose of keeping that Body Jesus shaped. This week I want us all to understand that the Spirit Without Measure is given to those who are Jesus shaped because that’s the Fathers purpose (to restore His image in us). Therefore our number one passion needs to be that goal of becoming more like Jesus, which unsurprisingly we can only achieve with the Spirit’s help. When we are Jesus shaped His ministry will naturally continue in and through us.
Now in the contemporary church the starting point for this has often been to immerse oneself in church activity (more worship, prayer, soaking, scripture, knowledge, meditating, etc.) and whilst none of these things are bad in themselves or will not do you any harm and even do you some good, they are all starting from the wrong premise. Becoming more like Jesus is not about what we do but about what he does in us and our surrender to that work of the Spirit. Becoming more like Jesus is not about an introverted, what a miserable sinner I am and I need a saviour approach, its about a positive embracing of the holiness which is ours by right through the cross, and keeping in step with Jesus and the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:6). Becoming more like Jesus is not just for the chosen few, the big guns of the Kingdom of God; it’s for every child of God, every new creation, every precious soul who surrenders all to Him. WWJD is the wristband that young people used to wear (What would Jesus do): its problem was no power and grace to do it. What we need is the Spirit without measure to
make us Jesus shaped to do Jesus ministry, and make Jesus known to others.
So what do our passages today have to teach us: in Galatians, Paul has been speaking about Life in the Spirit and how we are in a constant battle against our human or sinful nature to do what is right. In essence he is not telling us that once we become a Christian we are protected and can never fall, but he is saying to us that with the Spirit Without Measure and keeping in step with that same Spirit we can stay close to Jesus and become more and more like Him. Having told the Galatians what the result of letting the flesh or sinful nature take control is, he now gives them the good news that the Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-Control. Let’s press pause there: first this is not an arbitrary list, it’s the composite character of Jesus, and it’s given to you and me by the Spirit Without Measure. So if you want to be Jesus shaped then you need the fruit of the Spirit. Secondly, and consequently, its Fruit not fruits: you can’t just have the piece of Jesus you are comfortable with (just the fruit of love, for instance, without the fruit of self-control!), when you surrender you life you sign up for the whole package: one fruit with nine flavours. Thirdly and emphasize what I said previously it’s all about what Jesus, by the Spirit puts into me, rather than what I do for Him. “Against such things there is no law” says Paul. In other words you can’t legislate for this but nor can anyone legislate against it: it’s all a work of grace in me, and for that reason there is no way others can refute it or challenge it. Then Paul makes an important assumption, which brings into focus the basis of our salvation: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful human nature with all its passions and desires.” Becoming a Jesus follower means going with Him to the Cross, kneeling and surrendering all to Him, as well as allowing your old life to be crucified: anything less than that is not
salvation as the Bible teaches it. You can’t have an Easter Sunday faith without getting to it by Good Friday. So says Paul: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” The Spirit is never static; He’s about movement rather than monument, mission rather than maintenance, and like Jesus we need to keep up, and in step with Him if we are to become more like our Master.
However you might say: what Paul was talking about here was just theory, its okay for him to say these things but he was not a the sharp end of life or set within a hostile secular environment. Oh yes he was: and he paid dearly, eventually with his very life for staying close to and becoming more and more like Jesus. And just in case you think he’s an exception: take a look at John the Baptist: in John’s gospel at the close of Chapter 3 we have this rare glimpse into his soul and what gives it ultimate credibility is the reality that within weeks of testifying like this he was beheaded by Herod Antipas.
“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” said John. What a statement of faithful intent: what alone matters is what God puts into my life, it’s all about Him and not about me. And if that’s true then pursuing Jesus needs to be our overriding passion: nothing of ultimate value can be found elsewhere. We call him the preparer for the way for Jesus, sent ahead of Him; but in the fullest sense all Christians have that mantle to wear. John did it beautifully, and hopefully we will too, if we are becoming daily more like Jesus ourselves. But this can never be just an individual call and claim upon our lives: John affirms “The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom” & we understand that to mean the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ preparing corporately for the impending arrival of the Bridegroom: Jesus. “We belong to each other,” says Romans 12:5 and that means our lives our bound together in a kind of one flesh unity for the rest of eternity. We greet Him not as individual believers but as the Bride and what
hastens His return: us being ready, pure and holy. And Bride equals not just congregation but the One Church in Gosforth, or in Newcastle, or across the globe. John then gives us his secret of how this has happened for him and we listen and learn: “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegrooms voice: that joy is mine and it is now complete.” His description is deliberate and of huge encouragement to you and me: first his status: Friend of Jesus, of the Master (not I’m his cousin, this is about a kinship born in heaven). Jesus draws you and me closer and closer to Him, and there comes a point where He affirms: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know His masters business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father I made known to you (John 15:15). Friends become like each other: not face-book friends, real friends. Friends know the Masters business and mutually share with Jesus in the wisdom of heaven. Secondly his posture: he attends closely to the Bridegroom. Some of us haven’t even got to the point of accepting the invitation to the reception: how does he attend: he waits and he listens. This is the canvas of eternity we are speaking about here, and the God of Heaven and Earth is in no hurry, it’s the outcome that’s in His heart rather than the process. Some of us need to learn to wait upon God by His Holy Spirit, to sit patiently at the feet of Jesus, and drink from the fountain of eternity’s living stream. And some of us too need to listen more than speak or do: in the Book of Revelation the oft repeated cry is: those who have ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches. Thirdly his place of delight and joy: is at its height when he hears the voice of the Bridegroom: like Mary in the Garden (who responds Master) and like Peter in the beach (who responds ‘yes Lord you know I love you’). For John it was probably the words: Well done Good and Faithful Servant, enter
into my presence. For his joy was now so complete that nothing could snatch it away: even an executioners axe.
John then summarises his life by sharing with you and me the process that has taken place: “He must become greater, and I must become less”. The more he became like Jesus, the more able he was to truly be fashioned in the image of God as the Father had always intended. Which takes us back to that first crucial premise: this is about what Jesus puts into us by the Spirit not what we do in response.
So let the Spirit Without Measure take hold of you in a new fresh way and journey you towards Jesus: be attendant to Him, wait and listen, and realise that its all about His life being poured into the new wineskin of your life, and of the Jesus shaped Body of Christ: the measure to which that happens will be the measure of our effective mission over the coming months.
May 8th 2011.