ADVENT 2022: A SEASON OF REMEMBRANCE AND RESTORATION – 12/13/2022
December 10, 2022
Life in the Spirit
(Chris Schelin is the Dean of Students at Starr King School for the Ministry in Oakland. At Lakeshore, he is better known as Emma and Isaac’s dad)
Jude 17-25 (NRSVUE)
But you, beloved, must remember the words previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” 19 It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. 20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jude is an obscure and difficult book of the Bible, despite also being one of the shortest. The author elaborates on examples of divine judgment as he rails against another Christian sect or faction, whose adherents he denounces as intruders, slanderers, grumblers, and practitioners of debauchery. Needless to say, it does not come across as a particularly charitable text.
Today’s selection consists of the final verses of the book. They are also the most positive verses, as Jude turns from denouncing his opponents to offering a vision of Christian faithfulness. Among his instructions, he advises his readers to contemplate eternal life and show mercy to those who stumble.
Another of Jude’s proposals is that Christians “pray in the Holy Spirit.” One immediately wonders what is the difference between praying this way and…well, what exactly? Is it even possible to pray without or outside the Spirit? Does not the Spirit dwell in each and every one of us?
As with so many things, I believe the issue is not whether God is present to us or not, for there is only one answer to that question. Rather, what is at stake is how we show up and prepare ourselves to cooperate with the Spirit. In this respect, we can learn much from our siblings in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tradition, the fastest-growing segment of the worldwide Church that now represents one out of every four believers. We can also learn from the earliest Baptists,* who in some respects resemble Pentecostalism more closely than they do us.
The first Baptists had a vivid sense of dependence on the Spirit, seeking direct inspiration for their sermons, prayers, and hymns. They anointed the sick with oil and prayed expectantly for the Spirit to bring healing. While a favorite Bible verse for the Baptist understanding of worship has been Matthew 18:20 (“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”), early Baptist leaders frequently quoted John 4:23 (“…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…”). As the Particular Baptist leader Benjamin Keach wrote, “There is no Duty nor Ordinance of the Gospel, that can be performed acceptably to God without the Spirit, or the gracious influences thereof.”
Perhaps the central conviction for life in the Spirit is the trust that we are never alone. As we go about our day-to-day lives, it is easy to fall into a functional deism that imagines God to be somewhere “up there” or far away, only occasionally stooping down to interact with us. But if God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, then there is no place and no moment in which we cannot find the Spirit.
What this looks like, practically, can take a number of forms. It may include moments of stillness, simply resting in God’s first language of silence. It may include expectant prayer at the beginning of Sunday worship, inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us. The less inhibited among us are certainly welcome to shout their cries of praise and joy. As we light our Advent candles this season, may the flame of the Spirit also burn brightly within our hearts.
*Link to article by today’s author