Belief, and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

There appears to be in the Christian church today a profound misunderstanding of the working of Salvation in the Christian’s life.

On the one hand, we have the tried and true fundamental statement of salvation found in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (2:8):

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When one hears and receives this glorious proclamation, he breathes a groaning sigh of relief.  “I no longer have to strive to please God on my own; to be ‘good’ enough; to worry that I won’t live up to God’s expectations.  I’m saved and my ‘faith’ has saved me.”

These are all legitimate conclusions for the one who has, perhaps at long last, repented and believed.  God saves from His judgment those who believe in Him and His Son, Jesus, the Christ.

But what is it the Christian believes who receives this reprieve?  And what is it that he has agreed to in proclaiming Christ the Lord of his life?

The common understanding in the church today seems to be that “faith” is agreeing with the proposition that Jesus was God’s incarnation, sent to redeem His people – those who “believed” in Him.  And that’s it.

The word rendered “faith” in the Ephesians verse, above, is:

n4102. πίστις pistis, pis’-tis;

From 3982; persuasion, that is, credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; abstractly constancy in such profession; by extension the system of religious (Gospel) truth itself.

:–assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.

Obviously, the word does not possess the meaning “intellectual assent, or agreement”.  One who has faith is one who is convicted to rely upon Christ ‘for salvation’, i.e. for his redemption.

The word used throughout the New Testament to convey the idea of “believe” is a cognate of this word, and it is:

n4100. πιστεύω pisteuō, pist-yoo’-o;

From 4102; to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), that is, credit; by implication to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being to Christ).

:–believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.

We first see Jesus admonish His followers using this term in Mark 1:15:

Mark 1:15 (ESV) and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe (pisteuo) in the gospel.

Toward the end of his gospel, following Christ’s resurrection, Mark records these words of Jesus:

Mark 16:16 (ESV) Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

One who “believes” that Jesus is the Son of God entrusts his life to Him.  Having taken this decision he relies on his faith (pistis) that Christ can and will save Him.

Now in His ministry on earth, Jesus had completely tossed down and rewritten the norms of behavior of those who would be “righteous”; who would follow after Him and “observe all I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20).  These included all the “hard sayings” of Jesus: loving Him more than father and mother; to forsake the “things of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things”; to love ones enemies; and to love one’s neighbor as himself.

He understood that He was asking a lot from a preeminently self-absorbed people. And so, as He had planned, He promised and delivered a “Helper” – the Holy Spirit.

John 15:26 (ESV) “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

The ones to whom this Helper would be sent were those who had pisteuō’d in Him – who had entrusted themselves to Him for their lives.  And the job of the Helper would be to enable those believers to follow Him – to act on His behalf in their interactions with their fellows.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought believers a Helper to enable us to act on His behalf:

John 14:12 (ESV) Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father.

But how are we supposed to act on His behalf?  What is the job assignment?  Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

Imitators of God?!  Me?  How is this supposed to happen?  Paul tells us in Romans:

Romans 5:2 Through him (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace (5485. χάρις xaris) in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Through the Spirit of Christ we’re given access to the grace (charis) of the God from which comes the gifts (charisma) of the Holy Spirit to sustain and enable us to do things we naturally could not do.

2 Corinthians 9:8  And God is able to make all grace (charis) abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Again Paul, in Galatians 5:22, enumerates those conditions of the heart (charisma) that will be provided to us by the Holy Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

This is the gospel of salvation.  Christ wants those who share in His life to serve as His agents while on earth.  He has equipped us to carry out His ministry.  The only thing stopping us is…us.

If we refuse to be led by the Holy Spirit, we impede God’s desire for us.  He’s just not going to try to drag love out of an unwilling believer.  For as many times as some folks have read these verses in their Bibles, they still don’t get that God has a job for them.  They are so resistant to expending any effort, even if it would honor their Lord, because they have been brainwashed by modern interpretations of the salvation gospel that prohibit, under any circumstances, “works”, in direct opposition to God’s instructions to His children describing the life He wants for them in His Kingdom[1].

What they seem to have misunderstood is that salvation is more than justification.  Yes, they are justified in God’s eyes through their faith.  But they have been saved for something – for His work in His Kingdom here and now.

The real tragedy is that they each have the Holy Spirit alive in them just waiting for the call of enlistment into the work of the Kingdom.  But the Spirit isn’t going to initiate the action.  He’s a “helper”, not an initiator.  That’s our job.  That’s what faith looks like.  And then the Holy Spirit sees to the success of our initiative, for God’s glory.

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul encourages us to trust in the power (dunamis[2]) of the Holy Spirit in acting on His behalf:

 [14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

[20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

We are called to believe.  Having believed, we are equipped to serve.  It is for us to open our minds and break out of our complacency of justification, and with boldness seek to express Christ in the world.

[1] Instructions for Living in the Spirit

[2] 1411. δύναμις dunamis, doo’-nam-is;

From 1410; force (literally or figuratively); specifically miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself).

:–ability, abundance, meaning, might (-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle (-s), power, strength, violence, mighty (wonderful) work.

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