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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

How do I know when the Holy Spirit is active and present in my life?  What must I do to engage in the Spirit-filled life?  What sorts of criteria may I employ to recognize and discern the leading of the Spirit as I follow Jesus in faith?  Such questions are no less crucial for being so prevalent among earnest Christians who desire to please the Lord and experience His grace in power.

Throughout the New Testament an unbreakable, indelible link connects the cross-shaped story of Jesus for the people of God to the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the people of God.  The “shape” of the Spirit-filled life is determined by the prior work of the Spirit in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.  As we see throughout Paul’s various letters, this organic connection between Christ and the Spirit of God implies that the Christian life is to be continued just as it was first begun (Galatians 3:1-5, Colossians 2:6)—namely, by dynamic, active faith that has its critical reference in the crucified and risen Jesus.  To “walk by the Spirit” is synonymous with “living by faith” and “putting on Christ.”  James Dunn puts it this way in the remarkable ending to his book Jesus and the Spirit:

“Paul characterizes Christian experience of Spirit in terms of Jesus. When he wants to mark off the religious experience of himself and his converts from that claimed by his opponents or from a less than Christian experience, it is what we might call the Jesus-character of Christian experience which he seizes upon…In Paul’s view the Spirit has been limited or has limited himself in accord with the yardstick of Jesus. The power of God has become determined by its relation to Jesus…In Paul’s view experiences of God’s Spirit can be more narrowly delimited in the light of Jesus’ own experience of God and relation to God. The Spirit of God can be more precisely defined as the Spirit of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father and as the Spirit which both brings about the same relationship for believers and makes it existentially real. In short, we might say that for Paul the character of the Spirit has taken its ‘shape’ from the impress of Jesus’ own relationship with God…Only that power which reproduces the image of Jesus Christ is to be recognized as the power of God…To be spiritual is to be like Christ…The Spirit is recognizable only where the community of the Spirit manifests the character of Christ.

In short, Paul in effect looks round at all the various manifestations of the Spirit claimed by his converts and his opponents and says firmly, ‘The yardstick is Jesus.’ The character of the Christ event is the hallmark of the Spirit. Whatever religious experience fails to reproduce this character in the individual or community, it is thereby self-condemned as delusory or demonic…In Paul then the distinctive mark of the Spirit becomes his Christ-ness. The charismatic Spirit is brought to the test of the Christ event. The touch of the Spirit becomes finally and definitively the touch of Christ.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, pp. 319-25)

I want to simply draw out one crucial implication from this revolutionary paradigm.  If this is true, then it means that the Spirit-filled life is as much about the cultivation of Christ-shaped attitudes as it is about the frequency of religious activities.  Here is what I mean: yes, prayer and fasting and reading Scripture are essential to keeping in step with the Spirit.  Yet they are not sufficient in and of themselves to be aligned with the Spirit’s empowering presence and grace—one can do all of this and yet lose one’s soul.  What is essential is that in everything we do—whether “religious” or “secular,” vertical (God) or horizontal (neighbor)—the driving, determining factor be the story of Jesus in his self-giving love for others.  We are to renounce our own rights, status and privilege both for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor, by the power of the Spirit and in conscious imitation of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).

Just as we become Christians through participating in Jesus’ death and resurrection through the faith that the Spirit inspires in us when we first hear the gospel, so we also continue to keep in step with the Spirit of God’s crucified, risen Son by participating in the cross (denying ourselves) and the resurrection (leading to new life for both ourselves and others).  The way of the Spirit takes the people of God down the same path that Jesus once trod for us. Click to Tweet   Let that Spirit-infused, Christ-shaped attitude motivate and shape all of our activities as we seek after God.

nick webNick is from the New Jersey / New York area. He became a Christian during his freshman year at High Point University through the influence of a student-led Cru ministry. He earned a BA in English Writing with a minor in Religion/Philosophy, and then moved to the Twin Cities to attend Bethel Seminary. While earning an MDiv, he also served as a youth pastor and as staff at Minnesota Teen Challenge.

He next spent two years as a pastoral apprentice at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis under John Piper in The Bethlehem Institute, and concurrently he taught a number of theology and Bible classes at the undergraduate and graduate level. Nick studied at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary prior to joining Christian Union in 2008.  He has written several curriculums for Christian Union's University Ministries, including Sex & Spirituality, Romans and Hebrews. He is currently working on a book on the story-shaped spirituality of the Psalms, and in his free time loves all things NYC, jogging in Central Park, and reading great novels over allegedly good coffee.
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