This week the theme of The Living Word is about Jesus and how He comes to bring renewal through imparting the Holy Spirit.
He’s not saying “You must live better!”. We’ll leave that to the religious people.
He is saying, in effect, “By trusting in Me, you can live differently — what’s broken renewed, what is weak made strong, what is poor enriched and what is liable to fail given a new confidence.
- See also this week’s TLW Bible Study which offers verse-by-verse commentary on the Bible readings set for Jan 15 (interdenominational scheme) with discussion starters for home groups and short reflections on each passage.
- Watch this week’s video or listen to this week’s podcast episode (to follow)
This renewing move of God in sending His Messiah to be a spiritual leader and enabler, was seen way back — by the psalmist who wrote these words in Psalm 40:
Then I said, “Look, I have come. As is written about Me in the Scriptures: ‘I take joy in doing Your will, my God, for Your instructions are written on My heart.'”
I have told all Your people about Your justice… I have talked about Your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone… of Your unfailing love and faithfulness.Excerpted from Psalm 40:1-3, 7-10
This is someone who will model God’s goodness and justice. He will help us to do it, by His own demonstration combined with telling us how it works. This is someone who will get us living beyond ourselves.
Also speaking hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah saw in the Spirit this person whose words cut through doubt and confusion like a sharp sword. He saw the agent of God’s salvation — who will take this further and wider than anyone at that time could imagine. This is from the beginning of Isaiah 49:
Before I was born the LORD called Me… He made My mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of His hand He hid Me; He made Me into a polished arrow and concealed Me in His quiver.
He said to Me, “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”
But I said, “I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet… My reward is with My God.”
And now the LORD says — He who formed Me… to be His servant to… gather Israel to Himself… says: “It is too small a thing for You to be My Servant to… bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make You a light for the Gentiles, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”Excerpted from Isaiah 49:1-7
Who is Isaiah referring to? There are four such poetic pictures in Isaiah 41 to 53 and you don’t need me to tell you that the answer in Jesus! But there’s a bit of twist already in this part of the story which will become more clear as we continue. This is a story of us being enabled to live a renewed life, the life of the Spirit. It is about us being empowered to live beyond ourselves, because God has always intended to involve us in being a light for other people living in spiritual darkness and confusion.
God is the One who does the saving, let’s be clear about that. But we who know Him — especially those of us who have a relationship with Jesus by having asked Him into our hearts as our Lord — we are called to carry His light, to be a guide, a model and a coach for others. We literally bring the presence of Jesus where we go!
In Isaiah’s words, “I will… make You a light for the Gentiles”. By Gentiles he meant non-Jews, those who were not God’s people, existing outside the covenant He had with the Jews. Put into our time and our context, the people of God are the ones who belong to Jesus through choosing to trust Him as their Saviour. So for us, the Gentiles become those who have not had that opportunity — who have not heard that God is loving and God is strong and God intends for His salvation to be widely known and received. With Jesus as our light, we are to be His light, like a beacon to those who do not know Him.
This is the work of Jesus. His was a physical day-by-day presence — calling disciples, living, eating and travelling with them. He also started to involve them in His restorative works among those with needs — and those with spiritual hunger. That side of Jesus shows the spiritual presence He brought — and that’s how we know Him now.
John makes a point about this in His gospel account:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me, has surpassed me, because He was before me.’ …The reason I came baptising with water was that He might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. …The one who sent Me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus… So they went and saw where He was staying, and they spent that day with Him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called … Peter.Excerpted from John 1:29-42
The Christ means ‘the anointed One’ and this was described by John as the visible sign that he was especially privileged to experience. He said that God had told him that “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.”
John saw a visible sign of Jesus being anointed for ministry. He said that Jesus’ role would be to spread this anointing far and wide, drenching believers in the way that water baptism drenched them – but with a spiritual impartation.
This impartation is the grace, or free gift, of God to us, and in us, which enables us to live above our human selfishness. To use a contemporary phrase, the Spirit brings out the best version of us to be God’s mission and presence to others.
Paul talks about this, introducing his letter to Christians in Corinth. He speaks of their being sanctified in Christ Jesus. What he means is that the spirit of Christ Jesus in us works for holiness from the inside out.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people…
I always thank… God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way — with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.Excerpted from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
I recently heard this personal story from Richard Jackson, the Bishop who looks after the Church of England in the area where I live. His story was about how he became a Christian at age 17. Before that time, he said, he had the habit of swearing and using foul language. His sister persuaded him to attend a church youth group, and he remembers that he could just about keep his language under control for that couple of hours a week. But when Jesus became real to him and Richard asked Him into his life, it all changed. He didn’t swear any more. It just wasn’t there inside him and all his friends noticed the change. This, he said, is an example of what the Holy Spirit does in us.
In Paul’s words, he was being sanctified — being set apart for God on the inside. That part had no desire to swear at all!
This illustrates how we live a renewed life – which in practice is an ongoing experience of being renewed. There are always new things God wants to lead us into, and some old things, baggage of the past, He is always helping us to be free of.
Receiving Jesus in a personal way as Saviour, and giving over our lives to Him as Lord, is a choice and an event — but it is also the start of a dynamic relationship, which goes on, grows, stronger, and keeps on changing us.
This isn’t about what people would call being religious. We can attend church for years, take part in everything that’s going on, listen to the Bible read and sermons preached — and still not take that essential faith step of asking Jesus into our lives and hearts.
Churches can sometimes be guilty of presenting a lot of alternatives to the renewed life of the Spirit.
The alternatives are less costly, less demanding – except for perhaps an hour on a Sunday – but they are alternatives to real commitment. They cannot help us to really receive what Jesus has done for us – and give Him our heart in return.
This costs us! It costs us our independence — but in the way it works out in practice, it actually gives us a freedom we didn’t have before. And where we felt guilty, not good enough, and just not acceptable to God, we gain a new identity as His child, precious and loved by Him, and friends with His Son Jesus!
We cannot live a renewed life by any amount of effort. It doesn’t work that way. We live a renewed and fulfilling earthly life by being renewed into eternal life, starting now. And that can only be a work of the Spirit of Jesus in us — as we invite Him.
Lord, we have heard in Your word about a new song, a new way of showing Your light to others, a new role of joining You in Your mission and being renewed from within as we learn to let Your Spirit smooth our rough edges.
We say ‘Yes’ to You! We invite You! We invite You to have any part of us You didn’t have before and to re-shape us from within.
We welcome Your renewing work — personally, and in our neighbourhood and world. Help us where we are resistant to being changed, so we may carry Your light to draw others to You.
Give us spiritual discernment to see Your kingdom purpose and Your way of working — and a willingness to work with You. For Jesus’ glory, Amen.