The Holy Spirit’s not a magic charm. And the grace of God’s not spiritual voodoo.
If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you know I’m promoting a shift from knowledge-based Bible study to an obedience-based approach. I’ve received a bit of pushback at times (not necessarily on the blog) concerning these ideas. Many would suggest that God changes our lives and we shouldn’t be dependent on ourselves for bringing about this transformation. And a fair number of these Christians would then say the answer is for us simply to “work on our relationships with God” — and the Holy Spirit will reshape our lives as a result.
I’m certainly not against having a good relationship with God, but I don’t buy the premise that “I-need-to-work-on-my-relationship-with-God” can be accomplished with Bible study and prayer alone. A Christlike life is not fashioned from minutes spent in the word and a bowing of the head aimed towards a deeper friendship with the Father. There must be practice. Now, I’d never suggest the potential is within me to bring about transformation in my life — except that the Holy Spirit in me does provide such a power. But I am convinced this power will only manifest itself in a changed life when there has been present intentional training. I must rehearse my obedience to God. I must practice living in the kingdom.
Paul writes in (the first chapter of) his letter to Titus:
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
He then goes on (in chapter two) to describe this obedience that is lacking as something that can be taught. I find it interesting the the word “self-control” is used four times in the chapter to describe how Christians should behave. Controlling one’s self sounds more like hard work than supernatural voodoo. No question, though, the catalyst for learning obedience is indeed the grace of God:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…
But, still, the grace of God is not some magical charm that, once believed, makes us obedient little Christs. There must be a commitment to change; there must be a training for obedience. Check out these words from Paul (from 3:8):
And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
So the next time one of us finds ourselves thinking “I should work on my relationship with God,” perhaps we should consider doing so by practicing a little more than reading. Maybe 10 minutes of reading about loving my neighbor and 50 minutes of cutting that neighbor’s grass. Or 20 minutes of prayer, asking God to give me the courage and the stomach to hug smelly old ladies in the nursing home — and a couple of hours of actually doing so.