Article linked to the Bible study post for May 30, Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8 — In a glimpse of heaven, Isaiah has a renewal experience and hears God asking, “Who will go for us?”
John 3:1-17 — Israel’s renowned teacher needs spiritual renewal — and gives us the most important statement of the gospel
Romans 8:9-17 — With the Holy Spirit active in us, we should choose to follow His leading in new life, and resist the tendency to revert to the old
I remember getting the key to my first house — an exciting day, because this was all new to me. But what I could afford was a Victorian terrace property with an open fire and back boiler for heating and a downstairs bathroom behind the kitchen. It needed a lot of renewing, and that took a lot more time and investment.
The story this week is all about how God works to make us spiritually new and alive, and keeps on renewing us. There’s a kind of back story that comes out in the telling: God is experienced as three Persons, God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we can and should know them all, in a personal and intimate way, but they connect with us in different ways.
We know God the Father as Almighty God, the Creator — but as Christians we come into an amazing awareness of His faithful, unconditional love.
We know Jesus as the one we relate to as having lived life as we do, being tempted and tested in every way as we are, and yet never doing anything outside His Father’s will. As Christians we face up to the faith challenge of who Jesus really is, as the Son of God, and what He has done for us personally in dying on the Cross in our place. Through Jesus we are made right and can know God the Father and receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is spirit, but also a Person, part of the godhead, and never an ‘it’ or an impersonal force. As Christians we know Him as the One who gives us revelation, which is a kind od imparted insight or heavenly perspective. He is God’s supernatural power working within us to lead us in righteous life, and as God is keenly interested in reaching lost people with His love, His Spirit keep us looking for others where — paradoxically — He needs our help in the mission.
OT: Isaiah has a renewal encounter
In the first scene, Isaiah tells the story of his call to a prophetic ministry. He describes being raised up in the year that the long and stable reign of King Uzziah ended. He has a life-changing vision of heaven:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim… calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”from Isaiah 61-3
Isaiah, a man of proven righteousness, nevertheless felt exposed and convicted of his unworthiness as he became aware of God’s nearness.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”Isaiah 6:5
Then one of the angels took a live coal from the altar area and touched his lips, telling him that his sin was atoned for. He could now speak for God, who calls him, using the form of words:
Who will go for Us?Isaiah 6:8
This introduces us to the secondary story that emerges this week — God is one, but is known in three Persons.Confusing? How can one God be three Persons? Or how can three distinct ways of experiencing God amount to one God, not three?
We know from Scripture that
God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5
As a photographer, I am aware that what we call light is made up of three colours, red, blue and green. When those three colours are projected (think of theatre lights) what is seen does not have a colour cast, but is brilliantly lit. We need all the colours together!
NT gospel: Nicodemus hears his need for personal renewal
In the second scene, we move to Jesus, who is having a discussion about God and the kingdom of God, but at the same time the Holy Spirit who enables us to see the kingdom of God and helps us enter it. Pharisee scribe Nicodemus waits until its dark and safe from prying eyes to visit Jesus, to find out who He really is — and finds himself in a wider conversation. He says to Jesus:
You are a teacher who has come from God — for no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with Him.”John 3:2
And Jesus tells him what He has made central to His whole message — the kingdom of God has come near. But this rule or reign of God — wanting what God wants — is a heart attitude in people, not a political movement. It can’t be seen or measured, but it can be perceived. Jesus explains this as simply as possible:
I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”John 3:3, 5-6
… “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit… You must be born again.”
Then Jesus said something that would remind Nicodemus of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones coming to life as he summoned the breath, or wind, or spirit. When God spoke to Ezekiel in the vision, He said:
“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live’.”Ezekiel 37:9
And Jesus recalled this as He said to Nicodemus:
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”John 3:8
So He is answering Nicodemus” question of “Who are you? How can you do these things” by gently showing him that He, Jesus, is the fulfilment of the prophetic vision that was given to Ezekiel.
So if Nicodemus, an aristocratic and educated Jew, could welcome and believe Jesus, He would receive the spiritual impartation that would give him an entirely new perspective. We call this a kingdom perspective. We gain this new spiritual connection and spiritual vision in exactly the same way, but for us it is not face to face with Jesus. But we have a lot more in the way of ‘helps’ including the whole of the New Testament.
There is more — including the best-known statement of why the Good News is good, and how it is an offer of renewal that anyone can accept.
… “The Son of Man must be lifted up. that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”John 3:15-17
“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
We don’t get redeemed from our sin and renewed spiritually by any effort, merit or association we can make. It is important to recognise that we cannot create any kind of favour or preference — because to do so is to deny God’s grace in what He freely gives.
But we are not passive in this process. There is one move only we can make. No one can make it for us. We have to move, in our hearts, from scepticism to trusting belief in Jesus.
Then we find ourselves free to walk in new life — and eternal life. It is eternal life that starts now, where we are.
NT letter: The life of renewal in the Spirit
New life is new. But we carry into it a lifetime’s experience of the old life, where we called all the shots and occupied the throne of our decision-making.
That changed the moment we called Jesus our Lord. We vacated the throne and invited Him to take His place. But the pull of that old life — that needed an identity and a status, with various lusts to satisfy and an image to maintain — can still make itself felt.
We have to choose to live according to the Spirit and keep putting to death the selfish nature, or flesh, that tries to barge in.
It’s an ongoing conflict. We have to choose to be led by the Spirit of God — it’s not automatic. But it is an option open to us, if we have accepted Jesus as Lord, because we can then know the influence and sense of direction given by His Spirit:
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.Romans 8:9a
Paul is forthright in asserting that this new life, this being gently constrained to be Christlike, kind and gracious, is evidence of belonging to Christ:
And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.Romans 8:9
A put-on piety or religiosity is not the same thing at all as living in a different way because of a spiritual change of heart.
And coarse or profane language, judgmental attitudes, self-importance, lack of generosity — these common signs of “the realm of the flesh” can soften and melt away almost overnight when we truly give our lives over to Jesus.
Other attitudes are more deep-seated and are broken down over time. Some fears and anxieties are insecurities from things that happened in early life. They become like defended areas, bullying us in our thinking and feeling — strongholds in the mind. But by the Spirit of Truth we can say ‘no’ to these untrue but oppressive feelings
He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.Romans 8:11
Paul says, we have an obligation, not to be pushed about by the flesh nature but to put down these conflicts, carried over from the old life:
... We have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.Romans 8:12-13
Perhaps we would say, you will enjoy the fullness of the new life of the Spirit, exercising a sensible authority over our thoughts and feelings and insecurities.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”Romans 8:14-15
Coming to trust Jesus for who He is and what He has done for us at such great cost, is an event. Many people (not all) can remember the time when they prayed the prayer asking Jesus to be their Saviour and Lord and how different it became afterwards. For others it has felt more of a transition but they may still remember fondly the month and year.
To be born again in a new spiritual birth bringing acceptance by God and the renewal and ongoing renewing of His Holy Spirit is sometimes mocked as jargon but it is truly the most life-changing and joy-bringing experience we can know. Don’t led your pride keep you from receiving the new life God has for you!