“The good news is an annunciation. And the annunciation to Mary was no the imparting of information, or the planting of an idea. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she became pregnant! Christ within us by the power of the Spirit is not an idea but a presence even more enfleshed and intimate than a baby in the womb. Jesus, in all the fullness of his ascended glory and in all the living vitality of his undiminished humanity, is fused and united with each one of us.” Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit
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Once upon a time, Israel woke up to find herself enslaved among a once-friendly people. The hospitable terrain of Goshen where she had blossomed had become inhospitable and unfriendly. A womb had become a tomb, unsustainable for life.
Passing through the waters, Israel was (re)birthed into a frightening wilderness world, where God would take her to be His own and bring about a beauty attractive to the whole world (Ezekiel 16). He promised to be with her, but would not take up residence within her until the inauguration of a New Exodus in Jesus.
And now we can say not merely that God is with us, but that He is within us, bringing forth a beauty that will be attractive to a watching world. How extraordinary.
I was introducing a candidate for ministry several years ago among a group of Calvinist pastors. When I introduced a young guy I had gotten to know, I said, “Josh is a good man.” Very quickly, a typically outspoken pastor leaped up from his seat and said, “Can we say that any man is good?” This pastor’s brand of Calvinism reminds me of the words of an old elder at my childhood church who’d often say to me, “Don’t forget Chuck, there are none righteous, no not one.”
But this kind of wormology misses the reality that God takes up residence in human beings. It points continually to our screw-ups and ignores the unfathomable reality that in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s actual. It’s present. It’s the re-Edening of your once-inhospitable soul. The tomb becomes a womb, bursting with life. And this mysterious growing reality within causes us to say, “It is longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!” (Gal. 2:19).
What’s more, this means that you can relax. Attempts at cosmetic spirituality can be dropped. External rituals can be stopped. What defines you is within. Martin Smith writes, “Unless we come to acknowledge and believe in this true center, we will continue to imagine that our public personalities or our image of ourselves is the whole truth of who we are.” Our false selves can begin to wither and die. Our cheap imitations of spiritual heroes can give way to authentic and unique expressions of God’s image-bearing art in each extraordinary soul. Death to life metanoia takes place, and the Self among the competing selves breaks free.
Yes, while it’s true that our biggest problem is not ‘out there’ but inside of us, it’s also true that our greatest glory is not ‘out there’ but within. This isn’t New Age pop psychology, but it is why so many have turned to alternative spiritualities and away from faith. Recently, I heard a pastor make a cynical comment about Disney-theology, saying, “It’s a humanistic lie that teaches our kids that all they need is within them.” That is, unless you really believe that God dwells within by a Spirit committed to seeing human beings becomes the royal vice-regents of creation that they were intended to be. If that’s not true, then the Gospel isn’t good news and we are merely worms.
In my Calvinistic tradition, we’ve focused so much on the ‘objective’ work of Jesus that we’ve forgotten a remarkable and extraordinary ‘subjective’ reality – that God really does come near. If our bodies are really living temples (1 Cor. 6:19-20), then the Spirit has come in to clean house, to offer rest to our exhausted inner Pharisees, to proclaim peace to our angry inner Zealots, and to invite back into the family our exiled inner Essenes. Ancient Christians called this inner union theosis, a participation in the life of Jesus in a real, experiential, and transformative way.
Hindu’s are known to greet one another by saying, “Namaste.” I greet the god within you.
How would it change our sense of self, our relationships, and even our churches if we really believed that God has already taken up residence within us? It might be that our exhausted souls would rest knowing that God has already gotten to work within us in ways that spiritual techniques cannot. It might grow within us a sense of dignity, allowing us to greet others with dignity, and expanding our sense of mission as we recognize that God’s heart is to see life inhabit dead places. This isn’t some Disney fairy tale. It’s a story of a God who takes up residence, making the tomb a womb where life can grow and develop.
Namaste, in the name of Jesus.
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Think about your sense of self. Do you see anything good? Are you plagued with shame or self-criticism? How does knowing that God dwells within you by the Spirit change that?
What parts of you (or what voices inside of you) contest this reality? What do they say? Why are they afraid of letting God take up residence?
This week, create a quiet few moments where you can rest, breathe, and breathe in this Spirit of life. Can you feel the Spirit filling empty places? Can you feel the Spirit blowing away places within that feel congested, cluttered, or clamoring?