How do we walk by the Spirit?

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Galatians 5:16 –  “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

  • Command – “live or walk by the Spirit.”
  • Promise -  “you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  

Walking by the Spirit is presented in Galatians 5:15-16 as the solution to destructive relationships. Note the connection made in these verses -

15 – “But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” 16 – “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

“so I say”, (but I say) – This is a common formula used by Paul to introduce an emphatic point. “Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15 - “always biting and devouring one another.” To protect the community from destructive relationships (15), each member must “live or walk by the Spirit” (present tense) —“go on walking…” (16). 

He is not saying, “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh   and then you will walk by the Spirit,” -  as though the latter were a reward for the former. I am convinced that many believers subtly fall for this reversal of Galatians 5:16. But we cannot depend on the flesh to accomplish anything spiritual. 

When the apostle says, “live” or “walk” – “by the Spirit,” he means, “let your conduct be continually directed by the Spirit.” This is a command with an emphatic promise (based on a double negative in the Greek language) — “you will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh (or sinful nature).”

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Additional audio resource from my conference ministry: How to be filled with the Spirit

Steve Cornell

A command with a powerful promise

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is well-known for its twelve step program to help free people from the controlling power of alcohol. In the steps, you’ll discover themes that appear prominently in the first two.

Step #1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step #2 – We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Most recovering alcoholics admit that these two steps are crucial to ongoing freedom from the controlling power of alcohol (or any other addictive influence). They’ll also quickly tell you that an alcoholic’s unwillingness to admit that he is powerless is a clear warning sign of a potential return to alcohol.

What they have recognized in AA about gaining freedom from alcohol’s power is something Scripture already taught about gaining freedom from the controlling power of the flesh. What is it?

Step #1 – We cannot do it in our own strength. 

Step #2 - We need the power of God to live a life that pleases God (to restore us to sanity).

Truth - God gives this power to us through His Spirit whom He caused to live in us when we believed (see: Ephesians 1:18-20; 3:16).

We are not passive recipients

When we speak of the power of God by His Spirit, we should not see ourselves as passive recipients of this power but as actively seeking God’s power.

When the apostle says, “live” or “walk” – “by the Spirit,” he means, “let your conduct be directed by the Spirit.” 

Command with a promise

It’s a command that requires our obedience and it comes with an emphatic promise based on a double negative in the Greek language — (aorist subjunctive) “you will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh (or sinful nature).”

Four verbs are used in Galatians 5 to describe the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, (all of them roughly equivalent in meaning).

v.16 – “live/walk by the Spirit”
v.18 – “led by the Spirit”
v.25a – “live by the Spirit”
v.25b – “keep in step with the Spirit”

All of these fit under the command in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit.” And these verbs send a strong reminder of how completely dependent we must be on the Spirit’s presence and power.

Galatians 5:16

“so I say”, (or ςέ “but I say”). This is a common formula, used by Paul, to alert his readers to an emphatic point: “Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15 - “;if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

To protect the community from destructive relationships (15), each member must “live or walk by the Spirit” – present tense —“go on walking…” (16). 

  • Command: “live or walk by the Spirit.”
  • Promise:  “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (or flesh).” 

The RSV translates this as two commands, the second being, “do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Yet, while we do have similar commands in the NT (e.g. Rom. 6:12-13; 13:14; I Peter 2:11), Galatians 5:16 is a promise or a word of assurance indicating the means for gaining victory over flesh.

He is not saying: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former. This is the error of depending on the flesh to walk by the Spirit.

Conflict

Verse 17 expands on the conflict that confronts every believer. We could look at it as a conflict between two wills:

  • My will and God’s will.
  • Or between: “the ought to” and  “the want to.”

It’s great when these come happily together, when “I will to do what God wills for me to do” Or, “I want to do what I ought to do.”

But so often we experience an ongoing conflict or tension between these two and it sometimes gets incredibly intense and unrelenting (cf. Rom. 7:19, 21-25). So where do we look for the strength and power to overcome?

Galatians 5:16— “Walk by the Spirit…” present tense—“go on walking…” This is not something you must do from time to time. It’s a way of life!  It’s long obedience in the same direction.

There is no way to get to a place where we no longer experience the tension. There is no secret spiritual technique or second blessing that will put us above the battleground. To make this point forcefully, the moment you think you’re invulnerable to the allurement of the flesh — you are most vulnerable.

If you think you have reached some higher plane of spirituality — above the conflict between flesh and spirit — you are perilously self-deceived.

One has written,–“No Christians are so spiritually strong or mature that they need not hear his warning, but neither are any so weak or vacillating that they cannot be free from the tyranny of the flesh through the power of the Spirit… In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate, but the Spirit takes the lead, overwhelms, and thus defeats evil.”

A man came to his Pastor and explained how impossible it felt to live a Christian life. The Pastor fully agreed and the man was taken back! He expected to be rebuked and set right. Instead, the Pastor congratulated him for learning the most important lesson for living the life of victory. What is it? That you can’t do it! You must live in continual dependence on God.

This is not the “let go and let God” approach. This is a constant practice of humbling oneself before God and learning to lean on Him, rest in Him and look to Him.

It involves commitment to all the spiritual disciplines out of a strong sense of need and dependence (akin to hunger and thirst) (cf. Deut. 8:1-3- God will teach you this).

Not without a battle

But, as v. 17 indicates, walking by the Spirit is not done without a battle or conflict. 

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you.” (NIV)

“Does man choose evil, the Spirit opposes him; does he choose good, the flesh hinders him.”

Be encouraged by the presence of such a battle. It’s another evidence that God dwells in you by the Spirit (James 4:4-5; Rom. 7:14-25).

Yet the conflict is real. As one has written:  “In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate.” One wins and one loses, — always in relation to our response! 

We must take an active role with regard to the powerful ministry of the Spirit! It begins with an admission that says, “I am powerless in myself” and “I need God’s power to overcome the flesh.”

If I really mean this, I will humbly pursue all that God has made available to me (see: II Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 8:5; 13:14; I Peter 2:11)

A final thought 

These passages focus on a contrast of desire – what the Spirit desires and what the flesh desires.

Perhaps we struggle so much with wrong desires because we need to become captured by stronger desires. I think of the great command – “To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” This is a positive desire. This is an offensive not just a defensive posture (see: Psalm 42:1-2).

 Steve Cornell

5 primary resources for spiritual maturity

Spiritual maturity is God’s primary goal for our lives. God is actively and progressively changing us into the image of Christ. He is far more concerned about changing us than He is about changing our circumstances. 

God’s changes are thorough—affecting every aspect of our being—our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. Spiritual growth involves a deep transformation of our character that is sometimes painful (Hebrews 12:1-11).

A maturing Christian is one who is continually pursuing God’s will. This is growth process that will involve his intellect (as he uses his mind to explore God’s truth), his will (as he increasingly yields to God’s authority), and his emotions (as he cultivates godly affections).

A Christian can only grow in Christlikeness by God’s grace (I Peter 5:6; II Peter 3:18) and not by human strength and effort that is disconnected from God’s work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). This means that gospel-centered humility must always be the basis for spiritual transformation. The gospel reminds us that God’s love only reaches us based on His mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Spiritual maturity produces godly humility and the absence of self-righteousness legalism. 

“For the Christian, the path of connectedness to God involves the development of a Christlike mind, will, affections (or emotions), character, relationships and actions. When any of these capacities is undernourished, our spiritual growth will be stunted” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality).

The New Testament outlines five primary resources to bring us to maturity.

  1. God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23)
  2. God’s People (Hebrews 3:13-14;13:17; Ephesians 4:11-16) 
  3. God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12; I Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:21-25; I Peter 1:23;2:1)
  4. God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16; Colossians 4:12; James 4:8; I Peter 5:7-8)
  5. God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-8)

Steve Cornell

Learning to enjoy silence

Have you ever experienced uncomfortable silence? Perhaps it happened when a speaker stopped speaking and you were convinced that his silence meant he was looking at you. Maybe it was an awkward moment when you didn’t have the words to speak to another person.

“Silence often puzzles people. They meet a silence and they wonder what’s wrong. Or silence makes people restless. The effect is just the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d expect that people would enter a silence and fold their wings. You’d expect that inside a silence people would smooth out and settle down. But that’s not the way it goes. Oddly, a fair number of people find silence disquieting” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

Some people avoid silence and prefer noise, even feeling more secure with the sound of sounds. But what does it tell us when noise feels better than being alone with our thoughts? How can we truly learn the benefit of silence and listening with all the noises and distractions?

“You can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. . . It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes — sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it” (Danny Saunders).

When we practice silence and solitude in a secret place with God, our thoughts are quieted in His presence. We must hear this word from the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Wise people “give the impression of speaking out of a stillness at their center, a quiet place in which they are at home with themselves, in touch with God, and hospitable to the voices of others” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

A mother of toddlers might relish the thought of solitude and silence but the default for most of us is a power switch that connects us with others in our down time. Beyond televisions and radios, silence and solitude cannot be gained with phones, texting, voicemail, email, blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. Is it possible to be too available, too visible — too connected?

“The truth is that silence is part of the created rhythm of human life. The question of whether we need any silences goes to who we are, not just to what we want. That’s why a loss of silence is so serious. A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory, and just as disorienting. Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen. Silence is also the natural context from which we speak. A culture that fills in our silences therefore disorients us. It rips away our frame. It removes the background, the base of intelligibility for all our listening and speaking.” 

“The best way to achieve silence during worship is to practice silence as part of our everyday lives. … When this is a natural habit of our daily lives, then when silence is introduced at specific times during worship, we are perfectly comfortable with it and know how to use this precious time to focus ourselves on God in a different way from how we are present to God during the rest of worship” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

There’s a time for everything, wrote the wise teacher, “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7).

Three spiritual disciplines to help us

  1. Silence – Talking less and listening more. Quiet time before the Lord and others (Psalm 23:2; Isaiah 30:15; James 1:19). This is a lost but needed discipline.
  2. Secrecy – Living before an audience of one and doing things without others knowing (Matthew 6:5-6; 25:34-40; Philippians 2:3; Hebrews 6:10).
  3. Solitude Time alone with God. In our incredibly busy lives, we need alone time in the audience of One. This is indispensable to spiritual growth. Perhaps we must let go of some of our busyness (Mark 6:31).

Steve Cornell 

The pathetic idea of flesh trying to be holy

There are countless Christians fighting a battle that is already lost, trying in their own strength to overcome the subtleties of sin. 

That is a battle you can fight all your days, but I tell you now, you cannot win! It is a battle already lost, lost in the first Adam, who was made a living soul, and died; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has already defeated sin and death and hell, and Satan himself!  Why not accept in Him the victory that He has already won?

Victory over the flesh is not to be attained — it is to be received.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). No matter what it is that threatens you, if you walk in the Spirit, you can turn around and face your enemy.  You can find him helpless because God has already bruised the serpent’s head! (see Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In other words, to walk in the Spirit is to assume by faith the victory with which He credits you. God will vindicate your assumption and make it real in your experience.

Now the devil loves to invert truth and turn it into a lie, and probably what he has been saying to you is this: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former.  He knows that in this way, he will keep you preoccupied with yourself, instead of being preoccupied with Christ. 

Nothing is more nauseating or pathetic than the flesh trying to be holy!  The flesh has a perverted bent for righteousness — but such righteousness as it may achieve is always self-righteousness; and self-conscious righteousness is always full of self-praise.

This produces the extrovert, who must always be noticed, recognized, consulted, and applauded. On the other hand, when the flesh in pursuit of self-righteousness fails, instead of being filled with self-praise, it is filled with self-pity, and this produces the introvert. 

The devil does not care whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.  He does not care whether you succeed or whether you fail in the energy of the flesh, or whether you are filled with self-pity or self-praise. He knows that in both cases you will be preoccupied with yourself, not with Christ. You will be egocentric and self-centered rather than God-centered.

Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that, ‘walking in the Spirit’ is the consequence of your effort not to fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’ (adapted from a devotional by Ian Thomas).

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Take time to reflect on this truth. Discuss it with others. Share it.

Steve Cornell

 

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The emphasis we’ve seen on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise. This could then produce a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live day by day.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of daily life with the spirit of discontentment that promoted the sin of Eden.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a ….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

A needed message in our times

    • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
    • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

Trying to play the divine lottery

I am the oldest son of eleven children (seven boys). Growing up in a large family, I felt extra responsibility to help with the needs of the home.

When I was nine years old, my mother came close to death due to complications at the birth of one of my brothers. All of the children had to be “farmed out” to relatives until mom got well enough to take care of us. This was a very difficult trial, but it only increased my sense of responsibility.

When I was eleven, my parents became Christians and our home transformed from being basically non-religious to being Christ-focused. Shortly after, my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. This devastated our finances and placed a great deal of stress on family life. We lost the home my Dad had built and we struggled through years of setbacks and limited finances.

Despite these trying times, my parents’ faith in Christ deepened. As for me, I felt an even greater need to help my dad with the family.  

As a twelve year old, I struggled with why God allowed these things to happen to my mom and dad. As the oldest son, I was more keenly aware of the difficulties but did not have the maturity to handle it. Throughout those years, I often prayed for God to intervene with a “BIG” solutions.

My approach to God was something like those who play the lottery –– looking for a “BIG” solution to life. Prayer became like a divine lottery. “If only God would intervene and take our trials away.” I thought. So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more. But the BIG solution never seemed to arrive.

Through this experience, I learned how I could get so focused on BIG solutions that I missed the hand of God through many smaller interventions. And we witnessed many of these during our seasons of trial in a large family.

I find that I am sometimes still affected by my experience as a youth. At times, I tend to look at all the challenges, trials and setbacks of life and ask God for BIG solutions. Although I am typically optimistic in my outlook, my childhood mechanism occasionally pushes me into a place where I lose perspective. The way out of this feeling of despair is to trace the hand of God in the many smaller blessings of life. When I do this, although I feel bad for failing to notice God’s blessings, God is kind and merciful when we turn to Him with grateful hearts.

I also learned to thank God for the process of my trials because it reminds me of my dependence on Him. This is a good lesson and needed place for me to be (see: Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Proverbs 3:5-7).  

Although there were hard times growing up in a big family, I learned invaluable lessons about life and God — lessons I draw on many times as a spiritual leader.

Have you ever been in a dark tunnel of doubt and discouragement? Do you tend to focus too much on BIG solutions? I encourage you to trace God’s many acts of kindness in the smaller blessings of life.

When you do this, God will be honored and your joy will be renewed. The small blessings will also take on much greater significance and these words of Scripture will become more deeply meaningful: “the Lord’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Ask God to help you live by these words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

May you be blessed in the New Year!

Steve Cornell

10 Point Inventory (time for review)

The close of a year and start of a new one always motivates me to take inventory. I’ve found the following ten tests helpful for evaluating life. Scripture is offered with each one for deeper reflection.


1. The test of anger: What makes you mad?

“He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5). “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed (provoked within) to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

2. The test of humor: What makes you laugh?

“There’s a time to laugh, and a time to cry” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21) (see also: Ephesians 5:3-4).


3. The test of music: What makes you sing?

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:18-19). “Let my tongue sing about your Word,
for all your commands are right” (Psalm 119:172).

4. The test of anxiety: What makes you worry? What do you fear?

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25). “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43). “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; cf. Ps. 111:10; see also: Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6-7; I Peter 5:6-7; Isa. 41:10).

5. The test of money: How important is it to you? What do you do with it?

“Honor the Lord with your wealth” (Prov. 3:9a). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). Loving money is condemned (see: Luke 16:14; I Timothy 6:9-10; II Timothy 3:2).


6. The test of value: What is most important to you?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well: (Matthew 6:33; cf. Colossians 3:23). “Do not love the world or anything in the world. …  For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2;15-17). “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36-37).



7. The test of influence: What difference are you making in others?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. Philippians 2:14-16).

8. The test of companionship: What kind of people do you prefer to be with?

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (II Cor. 6:14-15). “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20) (cf. Psalm 1:1-3;Proverbs 22:24-25;Amos 3:3;I Corinthians 5:9-13).


9. The test of speech: What do you like to talk about?

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:32). “Brothers, do not slander one another” (James 4:11; cf. Prov. 11:12-13; 16:28; 18:7-8; 21:23).

10. The test of time: What do you use it for? How well do you use it?

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

Steve Cornell


Questions for Church leaders

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Are current and future Church leaders aware that professional opinion on the sources behind human behaviors and emotions has undergone a significant and relatively recent change? The authoritative voice on these matters has shifted from nurture (social context) as the primary source to nature (genes and brain chemistry).

The therapist or counselor now takes a back seat to the medical doctor. Therapeutic psychology has been unseated by bio-psychiatry and pharmacology as the reigning narrative for resolving emotional and behavioral challenges. Ministry training centers must equip students to understand and respond to this change.

How should pastoral counseling respond? How does the average person in the church understand life-change and spiritual transformation in relation to bio-psychiatry, pharmacology and medicine? 

To learn more about these changes, see my postPsychology, big business and theology.

Steve Cornell

Our Adoption Story

Adoption is a powerful and deeply personal word for many people – a life changing word.

It’s also a necessary word for each person who has received God’s gift of salvation.

The New Testament repeatedly explains salvation as an adoption story.  

God has chosen us, loved us, redeemed us and granted us membership into His family. We’ve been adopted! 

All of those who know God through Christ have an adoption story to tell.  We can all speak of being lost and destitute. We can testify to life under a cruel master who enslaved us under his heartless cruelty.

No matter how hard we tried, we failed to gain acceptance and love. We stood on the outside and it was beyond our ability to find a place in God’s family. We were outcasts, unwanted and without hope in this world. But our loving Maker refused to leave us in our hopelessness.

God saw us. He had mercy on us. He chose us. He set His love on us. He paid the price for our adoption. He made the long, difficult journey to bring us into His family. He granted us full rights of sonship along side His only begotten Son. We are fellow heirs with Him!

We’ve been chosen, loved, redeemed and adopted into God’s family! 

But this is a story that transcends time and reaches back into eternity. It’s also a story located in the deepest parts of God’s pleasure and will.

Ephesians 1:3-8 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,”

Galatians 4:1-12 (NLT)

“Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.”

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

Romans 8:15-17 

“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.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”

  1. The Holy Spirit is in contrast with a spirit of bondage.
  2. The Holy Spirit accomplishes and confirms our adoption.
  3. The Holy Spirit releases us from fear and celebrates our adoption
By the Spirit, we cry out, “Abba Father!” “Dearest Father!” (a title of tender affection) reminding us that we belong to God as His precious children. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 
This is an emotional expression prompted by the Holy Spirit as He testifies with our spirit with a comforting reassurance that we belong to God’s family. If you feel far from God, perhaps (like the Galatians), you’ve gone back to a way of life based on law and self-effort to gain approval.  Turn toward the Spirit of God who lives in you and do life from acceptance by the Spirit rather than life by law to gain acceptance. 
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The Spirit who lives in you 
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“But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:9-11).
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We stand with Jesus himself
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“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises” (Hebrews 2:10-12).

“He (Jesus) went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:35-36).

Romans 8:22-23 - waiting for complete adoption 

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

Steve Cornell