Sunday, July 8, 2012

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Get a Grip on God's Grace, Part 1: The "Thumb" of the Holy Spirit

Location: Bagram Airfield, Bagram, Afghanistan
Getting a Grip on God's Grace.  
It takes all five fingers.
"If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit."  (Galatians 5:25)

Over the past decade or so, I have employed an illustration in teaching that I call "Get a Grip", which seems to have worked pretty well in communicating certain foundational attributes of the healthy Christian life.  It's a highly visual device, the point of which is to demonstrate how neglecting crucial, God-ordained enablers of grace is, at best, an invitation to a life of spiritual weakness.

At worst such a life may be an indication of a false Christianity--a mere profession of faith without true possession of faith.  As our Lord warned us:
"Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"  (Matthew 7:22-23)
As is clear from Jesus' words, fooling ourselves can be relatively easy, and surely there is no illustration which will overcome my stubborn resistance to the truth if I am dead in my sins and determined to live a lie.  Still, for those followers of Christ who find it helpful to have a framework for gauging the heath of their spiritual walks, a simple illustration can be a useful tool for getting us back on track.

I'm hardly the first to come up with such an illustration.  I recall being introduced to the Navigators' "wheel" back in 1988.  This simple model has remained one of the most popular and effective tools for communicating the disciplines of the Christ-centered life for over 50 years.

The Navigators' "Wheel" illustration
Of course, there's no such thing as a "perfect" illustration--every analogy breaks down at some point by definition.  But "Get a Grip" has been effective and practical in my teaching experience, and may be something to consider for your toolkit.  The core idea is that a strong grip takes all five fingers, and when we neglect any one of them, our spiritual grip is likely to slip.

Just this year I began to incorporate the life and reign of King Josiah into my lessons as a touchstone for this study, beginning with the thumb:
"For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father ..." (2 Chronicles 34:3a)
Josiah's kingly success begins with his commitment to seek God's face, for his redemption and status as a child of God gave him access to the resources provided only by God Himself.  This is important to point out off the top, because living the Christian life is ultimately and inextricably a spiritual activity--it is powered by God through the supernatural work of His Holy Spirit.

Without the "thumb" of the Spirit, we can easily fall into the trap of believing following Christ is all about self-discipline and will power.  In other words, it becomes just another man-made religion about us.

Rather, the authentic Christian life begins with, and is entirely enabled by, God's Holy Spirit.  It has God's glory as its supreme objective.  Just as a grip is virtually impossible without a thumb, the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit is the essential enabler of the entire Christian life.  Hence Jesus' challenge to abide in Him:
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
It is important to begin any conversation about Christian life disciplines with this discussion, because of how easy it is to behave as if only our salvation is spirit-generated (indeed, some will not even absorb that basic truth).  It has often been called "practical atheism", claiming Christ's power but living by our own.  Spurning God's spiritual resources is both arrogant and foolish.  It is an invitation to spiritual weakness ... like the refusal to use your thumb.

Next:  Part 2:  The Word of God

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