Friday, September 12, 2008

Expressing on the Outside what is on the Inside

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV
My reading of Oswald Chambers* today intrigues me.

When a child is born, its ability to express itself is limited. As that child grows, she becomes able to speak but even then she has thoughts and ideas she doesn’t know how to put words to. I suppose this is one of the primary purposes of education—to teach one how to express themselves in a way that others understand.
When a young life is trying to express itself, it experiences exquisite suffering; music is run to, theatres are run to, literature is run to—anything to try and get the power to express what is there in longing.... Whenever a person or a book expresses for us what we have been trying to express for ourselves, we feel unspeakably grateful, and in this way we learn how to express for ourselves.*
What happens when a person is born again? Spiritually, she is a baby, unable to express the Spirit of God in her. Her speech will be that of a spiritual baby; her body will behave as a spiritual baby and even her thoughts will be spiritually immature. Just as a physical child gets frustrated as she tries to communicate what she wants or needs, so does the spiritual child. Romans 7 is a good description of that state:
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. (verse 19, NIV)
Chambers writes:
Sooner or later, through the turmoil in the soul, the physical life must express the ruling spirit. We grow exactly like our spirit. ...if we have the Spirit of God within, we shall grow more and more “into the same image from glory to glory.”*
That reminds me of an old lady I saw on the city bus one day as a child. I spent the entire ride studying her face. It was the most wrinkled face I had ever seen but the wrinkles were all shaped with laughter. It was most evident that this was a happy woman. I decided then that I want the same kind of wrinkles when I grow old. The physical life must express the spirit that rules inside. That woman was ruled by a spirit of happiness.
The spirit in a born-again person does not express itself in the flesh in the same degree that it does when the point of sanctification has been reached, because the body has not yet learned obedience to God. In the beginning the Spirit of God works in independence of the flesh and conviction of sin is produced. When the Spirit of God comes into a soul there is darkness and difficulty because He produces discernment of the wrong disposition, and this discernment makes the spirit yearn and long after being made like God, and nothing and no one but God can comfort the soul that is born of the Spirit. The only hope for that life is concentration on and obedience to the Spirit of God.*
I can look back and see this happening in my life—sometimes the struggle between the Spirit of God and my “flesh” has been more pronounced than others. God doesn’t grow us faster than we’re willing but how true that God’s Spirit produces in us a discernment that makes us yearn and long for God in a way that nothing else can satisfy.

It took me far too long to learn the truth in my heart that I knew in my head—truthfully, I’m still learning it. We can will our bodies to behave in certain ways, to do what our heads tell them to do, but it isn’t until our hearts—our emotions, the fundamental, deep core inside of us—are convinced that what we know in our head is true that we begin to behave in those ways naturally and without effort. It is God’s Spirit that changes our hearts. He works in the hidden parts of us—the places even we are unaware of—and we begin to change from the inside out. This work starts long before it is visible to anyone, even to the person in whom the change is being made.
When the Spirit of God comes into me, He does not express Himself straightaway in my flesh; He works independently of my flesh, and I am conscious of the divorce. I gain slow, sure, steady victories, but I am conscious of the turmoil. ...slowly and surely and victoriously, [however, we can] claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God, until...the only thing there is, is the Spirit of God...and now we can begin to manifest that growth in grace which will express the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh.*
This is encouraging! Living out the life of a follower of Jesus is a process. I don’t need to be frustrated and angry because it’s not happening all at once. I can trust that God is changing me at his speed and in his timing. All I need to do is be willing.

But I think it’s also instructive as we look at the lives of others. The new Christian in our midst is not going to change everything about her life the moment she chooses to follow Jesus. We need to be patient. Last night I was reading the blog of a woman who for 20 years had lived as a lesbian. Then she turned to Christ and choose to follow him, but it took her two years to realise the sinfulness of her lesbian lifestyle enough that she turned away from it. All the while her Baptist church loved her and welcomed her and let her know she was a part of them even though she hadn’t dealt with all her sinful ways.

We need to be like that congregation—loving the new believer, though not their sin—and being willing to patiently wait on the Lord while he does the work in her that no one else can do. (Read Charlene’s story.)

God, I’m so grateful that you don’t just change the outside of me but that you get right into the deep parts of me and change them first so that I truly do become a new creature and not just an old one with new skin. Thank you for the patience extended to me by believers who were willing to wait for you change me and who didn’t try to hurry the process along by trying to force the changes on me before I was ready. Please help me to have that same patience as I wait for you to continue your work in me and as I interact with others who I may think should be better able to express your presence in their lives by the way they live. Thank you.

*"Spirit: The Domain and Dominion of Spirit: Man’s Universe” in “Biblical Psychology” in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, pages 208-212.

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