Having begun in the Spirit…

I would like to read three short passages, from three different letters of Paul the apostle.

The first one is from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: «Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s».

From these verses let us remember this: Our body and spirit are God’s, they belong to God because we were bought with a price; our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit that we have received from God; we are not lords of ourselves.

The second one is from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: «For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for their sakes died and rose again».

In this passage, let us note that the love of Jesus was something that was constraining apostle Paul, that is, it was holding him fast and compelling him to do whatever he did, motivated by the love of God. And he says that if one died for the sake of all, therefore all died…. so that all may live for the one who died for them.

And the third one, is from the familiar verses in Galatians 2:19-21. «For I, through the law, died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not reject the grace of God; for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing! »

Without doubt apostle Paul had a special revelation from God. He was not among the first twelve disciples or apostles. So, God dealt with him separately, on his own, and He called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, that is, to those who were not Jews. Apart from the substantial matter of sin, Paul had to face two further serious issues that troubled the Christians of that time. One was the question of whether the nations can be joint heirs and fellow partakers of the promises that were given by God to the people of Israel. The other, was the related question of whether we, the Gentiles who are not Israelites, should, in addition to our faith in Christ, keep the traditions related to the law that was given by God to Israel through Moses. And this is the main issue that apostle Paul deals with in his letter to the Galatians in an effort to restore among them the truth of the Gospel, concerning these matters. For us today, these are known facts, but for the Christians of that time, who did not have the books of the New Testament in the form that we have them today, they constituted a major problem that troubled them and they were in danger to be shaken from their simplicity of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is probably what took place among Galatians, since in the third chapter (vs. 1-4) we read the following: «Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you not to obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly portrayed among you as crucified? I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain, if it is indeed in vain? » We see that the Galatians reached a point that they were misled into performing works of the law and they drifted away from the simplicity of their faith in Jesus and from the Spirit.

At this point, I would also like to emphasize that, from what we read, we understand that there should be a beginning in every person: «Having begun in the Spirit». This is the Spirit Whom we, as we have read in the first letter to the Corinthians, have received from God and is in us. This initial and real introduction in the life of God is possible only because of the redeeming work that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. Jesus died for our sake. There are many things that we as Christians do: we may come to the meeting, pray, read the Bible, try to live a moral life and a lot of other things for which the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not required. The only thing for which the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary is our redemption from sin. It is for this reason that Jesus Christ died for us, and there is no other way to be saved and to enter into a real living relationship with God. So, it is very important to understand that the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross constitutes the basic precondition so that we may have the Spirit from God living in us, and as a result, our bodies to become temples of the Holy Spirit. That is why wherever the apostle Paul went he preached Christ crucified, God’s power and God’s wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The cross was absolutely necessary; it was necessary for Jesus Christ to die so that we may have life. In the letter to the Hebrews 9:16-17 we read the following: «For where a last will and testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him who made it. For a will is in force where there has been death, for it is never in force while he who made it lives». And verse 22 declares that «apart from shedding of blood there is no remission (of sins)». Without the death of Jesus Christ there could have been no New Testament today and, therefore, every promise of God that we can inherit through it could not have any effect either.

Therefore, let us always bear in mind the necessity of the cross of our Lord. Jesus had to die. The cross is the power of the Gospel. It is the power that introduces us to the real life of God, where we are enabled to live for Him. The essential thing in our relationship with God is not merely to have an easy time, to have blessings and joy and to sing hymns. Even though these may be provided by God through His grace, nevertheless, our relationship with Him, and which will abide forever, can only be through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is how we begin in the Spirit and there is no other way.

Now, unlike the Galatians who, even though they began in the Spirit, they were finishing by the flesh, we, having begun in the Spirit, must also go on to the end with the Spirit. In the Bible there are many warnings concerning this danger, and there are a lot of people who take an initial step of faith in Christ, but after a while they fall into a state of self-deception, and even though they consider themselves as spiritual, they live in the flesh. Others, turn back to the worldly life or are lured and wander in wrong teachings and they do not remain in that condition of the living relationship with God where their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Apostle Paul says: «I died… it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me… who loved me and gave Himself for me», and we usually think that what he means is, «I make my plans, I make my programs, I arrange my life as I desire, and then there is a power in me, the power of Christ that helps me to carry them out or apply them, so as to live as conveniently as I can». And because we like to live with our comforts, we want to have the control of things and we care and worry about the one thing and the other, so as to achieve our ultimate objective which is our worldly welfare. But this is not what Paul means. Essentially what he says is this: «I died and Christ lives in me as the Lord of my life; I am just a servant of Jesus Christ Who lives in me; He is the one who makes plans and leads my life and brings to me whatever he desires, either suffering or blessing; I abandon myself in His hands so that my body may be His temple». This means a total surrender to Jesus Christ and an entire breaking of my individual independence: «I no longer live, Christ lives in me, I am not a master of myself because I was bought with a price and I no longer belong to myself».

I was thinking a lot about these things lately and I was praying that the Lord would make them a reality in me. Not just to think of them as nice words. The Gospel is not just nice words but words of life and reality. Have we begun in the Spirit? If we have really begun in the Spirit, then the way to continue in the Spirit is by letting Jesus live in us, and that His temple, that is, our bodies, be and be kept holy, so that God may be glorified in them. Many people may begin right, but may not go on in the right way and, as a result, they lose their communion with God, darkness and confusion comes in, and a feeling of uneasiness arises that makes them desire to have everything under their control. Therefore, they begin to worry and rush in order to take care of things and, finally, they move away from their trust in Jesus and they fall into a state of doing works of law and bondage in the flesh. But, if what Paul describes (in Galatians 2:19-20) is indeed our real condition, then we experience a marvelous freedom. For example, he wrote to Timothy: «But having food and clothing, we will be content with that» (1 Timothy 6:8). Isn’t this freedom? Why worry? Cannot the Lord who lives in us take care of all that we need? Are we more capable than Him? Do we know better than Him? Can He not take care of any matter that we face concerning our health, our work, our family and everything else?

Dear brethren, the Lord is coming soon and we must be in the right relationship with Him. We have to begin, but we also have to continue correctly in the Lord. Whatever experience each one of us had is of no importance. We do not believe in our own or someone else’s experience, but in the Lord. My experience is different than yours. Let us not produce teachings and doctrines based on our own experiences, but let us live founded on the Word of God. Let us never forget that for the forgiveness of our sins and for our entrance into a real spiritual relationship with Christ, it was necessary for Him to die for our sake. When the Holy Spirit comes into a man, He forms a new creation in him: He brings the nature of Jesus Christ deep inside his conscience and a spring opens up in that man from which a new life begins to spring up, the life of Jesus (see John 4:14). New motives begin to guide his life according to the will of God and, subsequently, man has to do his own part and in full awareness say to the Lord: «Lord, let your will be done, be Lord in me». It is only then, that the life of Jesus can be expressed unhindered through that person and, with his obedience in Him, the life of Jesus to become more and more real and strong in him. I hope that all of us will have such a life to present to God when one day we will stand in front of Him in the eternal light of His presence.

These words came to me with much power lately. May the Lord make them a reality in each one of us. I would like to ask each one who is here to respond and to reconsider his life and his relationship with the Lord. Our life as Christians is not just to care how to make things more convenient for our physical bodies. What we must do with our bodies is to abandon them in the hands of the Lord so that He may do whatever He wills with us. Let us be ready to accept everything He brings into our lives and, if we do so, because we love and trust Him, then His name will be glorified in us. So, let us pray together so that we may not be deprived in anything of the complete life that God promises to us through Jesus. Let each one of us examine himself and let us always be in spiritual alertness, «lest, a promise being left for us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it» (Hebrews 4:1).

We can say and read a lot concerning this subject, as well as the issue of the works of the law and the issue of the participation of the nations in the promises that God gave to the people of Israel. Nevertheless, the central point and the basis of all that matters to us is this: «Christ crucified». It is on the cross that the old things finish and a new situation begins, a new creation inside a man which did not exist before. It is a new reality that God implants in us and we have to live it in actual life. It is not a notion, it is not a dream nor just a vision, but a living spiritual relationship with God in His presence. Amen.

Andreas Photiades

Having begun in the Spirit…