Your Spirit Cannot Breathe Without ‘Spiritual Oxygen’ BY DAN DELZELL, SPECIAL TO CP

Without oxygen, your body will die. And without “spiritual oxygen,” your spirit cannot come alive. Only the Lord can give life to your body. And only the Holy Spirit can give “spiritual oxygen” to your spirit. The Christian life is as miraculous as breath itself. Receiving life-giving oxygen into your spirit is as easy as taking your first breath after being born. It just happens.

There are many religions, but only one type of spirituality that produces life on the inside. False doctrine tends to make you proud of your religious efforts. True doctrine, on the other hand, involves an understanding of just how far you fall short of God’s holy requirements. To “breathe with Jesus” means in essence that you no longer trust in your religious deeds to save you. Now you are trusting Him, and what He did for you on the cross.

Before you trusted Christ, there was no spiritual oxygen so to speak in your spirit. That’s because your spirit was “dead in sin.” There was not an ounce of life in it. Your soul may have been busy carrying out religious duties, but there was no breath of God in that approach. Just striving, and pressing, and pride.

Then you saw your sin and your Savior. And you wondered how you could have missed something so simple all those years. “How did I ever think I could somehow be righteous enough to gain acceptance into God’s family?” You finally started to see your religious pride in all of its ugliness. And you began to breathe with Jesus. The Holy Spirit came inside you and caused your spirit to come alive. And you started to see. For the first time, you truly saw Jesus. And you have stood in awe of Him ever since.

“How could He love me so much? How could He want me in His family?” And yet, somehow you know that He does, and He did, and He will, just because. You now bask in His love. And as you do, you realize that your soul is breathing. And boy does it feel good.

That’s not to say you are trusting in your feelings. It’s just to say that you are enjoying this new approach to spirituality. It is fresh and real and alive. And you feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your spiritual shoulders. You no longer feel compelled to earn your way into God’s good graces. And for the first time in your life, you now realize how impossible it is to get to God that way. You now understand grace because you have received it yourself. And you are so happy to be alive in Jesus.

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It’s hard to explain to someone what the full experience of “spiritual oxygen” is like. After all, there is an “ebb and flow” to it. Since you are still “in the body,” you continue to struggle with the things of the flesh: Sickness, moods, and even spiritual attacks. That doesn’t mean you fully “get it” and understand all there is to know about such attacks, but you realize that something kind of “weird” happens at times in that invisible realm. You feel pressure from somewhere. And you begin to wonder if there might just be some spiritual adversaries out there who are working against you, and your family, and your marriage, and your church, and your new life in Christ.

You read the Bible and you learn about spiritual warfare which goes on all the time in this invisible realm. You read about angels and demons and God and the devil and sin and grace. You read about men and women who were just as imperfect as you, and yet, they too were being swept along by a higher power and a holy presence. They were being energized by their Creator, and they were breathing the new life that you now breathe in your spirit.

There is a richness to your life now that is happening on another level. You cannot fully describe it. But you know that you are experiencing it because of His grace and mercy. You know that if it wasn’t for God’s love for you, life as we know it would ultimately be hopeless. And you want everyone to know this love which surpasses understanding. You want everyone to know Jesus and His grace.

But you have come to see that there are so many who live and die and never “get it.” They are dead to Christ. That is to say, they have absolutely no interest whatsoever in His saving grace. And perhaps more than anything else in life, you simply don’t understand why anyone would turn down the opportunity to breathe on the inside.

That is your new life now. Seeing spiritual things that you never saw before, while also knowing that there is so much you won’t fully understand until you get to heaven. One thing this spiritual oxygen does not produce in you is pride. That ugly trait comes from another place on the inside of man, but not from this breath of God in your life. His supernatural breath in your soul produces a humility before God. You know you are sinner. And you know you have been saved by His grace, and that there is nothing you did to earn it or deserve it.

And so you breathe. And you live. And you ask the Lord to use your life to help others breathe. And then you go to bed and get up the next day and do it all over again. Until your body dies. And your soul instantly gets ushered into God’s heavenly kingdom.

That my friends is the life we have been given as believers. And it will never end because the breath of God is eternal. In the words of the apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

So go ahead if you like. Just breathe in Jesus today. Accept Him as your Savior. Trust Him as your friend. And begin to breathe for the first time as the Holy Spirit anoints your life and your soul with His life-giving presence. Apart from the miracle of the new birth, your spirit won’t ever take its first breath. And your religious striving will only lead to further and further frustration.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31) And then you will know what it’s like to take your first breath. It’s not difficult. It’s just unique and different from anything else in the world, including every other religion. Only Jesus takes religion and turns it on its head. That’s because once you accept Christ, you serve Him not “in order to be saved,” but “because you have been saved.” (see Eph. 2:8-10) He did it all, and the spiritual oxygen flowing in your soul is a testimony to His love and salvation. This breath now moves you forward in a life of discipleship.

When Jesus breathed His last upon the cross, the world was given the gift of eternal life and the gift of spiritual breath. And as the Son of Man rose from the grave, new life began to spread across the globe. That new life has found its way to you and to the doorstep of your spirit.

Receiving Jesus into your life brings a breath of fresh air that never ends. There are of course many other ways to go through life. And every one of those alternatives is basically “breathless.” Those approaches lack His touch, His grace, and His spiritual oxygen. That’s why they leave you empty in your spirit.

But not Jesus. He will never leave you empty. You see, it is only when you “run out of breath” doing religious stuff that you find yourself in a position to finally breathe with Him. And once you start to inhale and exhale Christ, you never look back. Why would you? You were created to breathe. You were not created to spiritually suffocate.

After Christ’s resurrection from the dead, “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20) Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) Simply put, the risen Messiah’s breath changed the world from that moment on.

Can You Give Joy to God? by Mark D. Roberts

Ephesians 4:29-30

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

In several of last week’s reflections, we considered how our words might grieve the Holy Spirit. When we speak in ways that are contrary to the person we will be on the day when God redeems all things, the Spirit grieves. When our words hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ and injure the body of Christ, the Spirit grieves. The idea that we can actually grieve the Holy Spirit surely will motivate us to avoid “unwholesome talk.”

But, before we leave Ephesians 4:30, I want to ask a question that isn’t addressed directly in the verse: If our speech can grieve the Holy Spirit, is it also possible for what we say to give joy to God? If our hurtful words can sadden God’s Spirit, can our edifying words give delight to the Lord?

In order to answer this question, we need first to consider a broader question: Can we give joy to God? Or, to put it another way, can our words, deeds, thoughts, and choices give God pleasure?

I think many Christians would answer this question negatively. We know we can grieve the Lord. We’re quite convinced that our sin can make God angry. But God rejoicing in us? That seems like wishful thinking, like the kind of pop theology that shows up on corny religious posters but has nothing to do with reality. God, for many of us, is a stern, demanding, imperious King who, if we’re really good and really lucky, will not be angry with us or grieved over us. The best we can hope for is that God will feel neutral about us.

This perception of God can be fueled by our experience of our own parents. My father, for example, loved me deeply and dearly. In most ways he was a great dad. But he had difficulty expressing his positive feelings for me. He was not physically expressive. He rarely told me in words that he loved me. And, never in my life, did my dad ever say, “I’m proud of you.” When he was close to death, I gathered all of my courage and asked him if he was proud of me. Even then, he just couldn’t say it, though I could tell he wanted to say “Yes!” Thanks be to God, I heard from my mom a thousand times that she and my dad were proud of me. But, though I knew in my head that my dad delighted in me, I rarely experienced this in a way that touched my heart.

So, as you might expect, I easily project upon my Heavenly Father that which I experienced from my earthly father. I know God loves me. I believe God will always be there for me. I know God would do anything for me (and, in fact, he has). But do I give God joy? Can I give delight to my Heavenly Father? This is hard for me to acknowledge and even harder for me to feel deep in my yearning soul.

In tomorrow’s reflection, I’ll examine what Scripture says about our potential to give joy to God. (If you’re impatient, you might check out Psalm 149:4.) For now, I’d encourage you to reflect upon your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The following questions might be helpful to you.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you believe that you can give joy to God? If so, does this belief reside in your heart as well as your head? If not, why not? How has your experience with your parents affected your relationship with your Heavenly Father? If you really believed that you could give joy to God, how might this make a difference in your life?

PRAYER: Gracious Heavenly Father, I do not want to grieve your Spirit. I do not want to sadden you or anger you. What I really want is to honor you in all that I do and say, to please you, perhaps even to give you joy. Yet, Lord, I don’t want to make up feel-good religious slogans that are not grounded in your Word. So, help me, I pray, to know what is true about you and the way you relate to me. Where my mind is off track, please correct it. Where my heart is wounded, please heal it. Help me to know you truly, deeply, and as fully as is possible for me this side of Heaven. Amen.

Why Your Words Matter So Much to the Holy Spirit by Mark D. Roberts

Ephesians 4:29-30

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

In Tuesday’s reflection, we saw that our words can grieve the Holy Spirit. Yesterday, we discovered one reason for this surprising truth. Since we have been sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption, when our words and deeds contradict who we will be on that wonderful day, the Spirit grieves.

Today, I want to suggest another reason why our words matter so much to the Holy Spirit. In previous sections of Ephesians, we learned that through Christ all Christians have access to the Father “by one Spirit” (2:18). As God’s people, we are becoming a dwelling for God’s own Spirit (2:22). Thus, we are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit . . . (4:3-4). Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, the Holy Spirit gathers believers together into the body of Christ, empowering each one to contribute to the unity and growth of the body (see 1 Cor. 12). Thus, to put it simply, the Holy Spirit is in the body of Christ business. The Holy Spirit is at work forming, building, shaping, and unifying the church.

Thus, if we say and do things that injure the body of Christ, the Spirit is grieved, not only because what we’re doing is sinful, but also because it opposes a central work of the Spirit. If we use language that hurts a brother or sister in Christ, we’re failing to seek the unity of the Spirit and are contributing to disunity, and the Spirit grieves.

I can understand the response of the Spirit when I remember my own experience as a pastor. For sixteen years, I sought to help Irvine Presbyterian Church grow in unity, strength, and size as a part of Christ’s body. When members of my congregation joined me in this effort, I felt grateful and encouraged. But when people did things to injure our unity and hamper our growth, I felt grieved. Most of the time, the actions that injured and hampered were verbal. When people used their words to gossip, to criticize, to put down, and to hurt others, I felt a deep sadness, both because of the harm done to people I loved and because of the damage done to the church. Thus, it’s not difficult for me to conclude that, even as I felt sad, the Spirit of God was grieved, and in a way that I can only begin to imagine.

I’ve been focusing on the power of words to grieve the Spirit because that’s the chief point of our passage. On Monday, I’ll consider the potential for our words to give delight to the Lord.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced the power of words to hurt the body of Christ? Have you ever been a recipient of such words? Have you ever been the one who spoke them? How might this passage from Ephesians affect the ways you speak when you’re gathered with your church? How might this passage inform the way you speak at work? at home? in your community?

PRAYER: Gracious God, again I thank you for entrusting the power of words to me. What an honor! Help me to use this power for good, for blessing others, and for building up your body. When I am tempted to use words to hurt others, may your Spirit convict me before I speak. Even this day, Lord, may I have the chance to build up others and to strengthen your church through my words. Amen.

The Link To Life

By the time he was 16, Morris Frank (1908–1980) had lost his sight in both eyes. Several years later, he traveled to Switzerland where he met Buddy, the canine who would help to inspire Frank’s involvement with the Seeing Eye guide-dog school.

With Buddy leading the way, Frank learned to navigate busy sidewalks and intersections. Describing the freedom his guide provided, Frank said, “It was glorious: just [Buddy] and a leather strap, linking me to life.” Buddy gave Morris Frank a new kind of access to the world around him.

God’s Holy Spirit gives us access to abundant spiritual life in Christ. When we accept Christ as Lord, God washes our sins away and renews us “by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 niv). Once we know Christ, the Holy Spirit helps us experience God’s love (Rom. 5:5), understand God’s Word (John 14:26), pray (Rom. 8:26), and abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).

Today, as you think about your relationship with God, remember that the Spirit is your guide to life in Christ (Rom. 8:14).

Holy Spirit, Light divine,
Shine upon this heart of mine.
Chase the shades of night away;
Turn my darkness into day. —Reed
The Holy Spirit guides us into knowledge and spiritual growth.

In the book of Titus, Paul instructed his younger coworker Titus on how to teach believers in the young church of Crete to live holy lives. Paul emphasized the importance of godly leadership (Titus 1) and of gracious behavior within the church family (ch.2) and in society at large (ch.3).

Why Would Your Words Grieve God’s Spirit? by Mark D. Roberts

Ephesians 4:29-30

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

Yesterday, we saw that our words can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we use “unwholesome talk,” rather than choosing words that build up and benefit others, then we sadden God’s own Spirit.

Why? Why does Ephesians 4:29-30 make such a close connection between words and grieving the Spirit?

Our passage implies that any sin will grieve the Spirit. When we fail to do what God wants us to do, when we choose instead to do that which dishonors our Lord, the Spirit of God grieves. But, if this is true, then why does Paul mention grieving the Spirit in the context of using language that tears others down rather than building them up?

One answer to this question comes from the end of verse 29: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. We were first exposed to this hopeful notion in chapter 1: “When you believed, you were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14). The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a sign, a guarantee of the full redemption that is coming, when God makes all things fully right, including us. In that day, our relationships will be completely what God intends them to be. All of our words will build up, offer grace, celebrate beauty, and be expressions of love. So, when we act and speak in ways contrary to our future redemption, we grieve the Spirit who is the guarantee of that redemption.

Consider this rough analogy. In movies, and, I would imagine, in real life, when married people choose to have affairs, they often remove their wedding rings. Why? Because there is something terribly wrong with wearing a sign of one’s marriage covenant while breaking that very covenant. If a wedding ring had feelings, and if the wearer of that ring committed adultery, then surely the ring would grieve.

So it is with the Spirit of God. When we sin, in words and in deeds, the Spirit grieves because we are acting contrary to who we are in Christ and to the covenant God has made with us. We are contradicting the reality of who we will one day be when God redeems all things.

Yet, and here’s some astounding good news, we cannot “take off” the Spirit when we sin. Moreover, our passage does not suggest that God will remove the Spirit from us. Rather, when we sin through our words and in other ways, God’s Spirit remains faithfully present, ready to help us repent, confess, receive forgiveness, and live so as to honor God in all we do.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever think of what you will be like in the day when God redeems all things? How might focusing on this coming reality make a difference in your life today? How can you speak and act today so as to live consistently with the seal upon your life, the Holy Spirit of God?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for claiming me as your own. Thank you for placing on me a permanent sign of the fact that I belong to you. Thank you for the Spirit who guarantees the redemption that is to come, when I will be fully the person you have created me to be. And thank you, Lord, for not removing your Spirit from me when my words and deeds are grievous to you.

Help me, Lord, to speak and act in ways that are consistent with who I will be on the day of redemption. Help me to honor the seal you have placed upon me, your very Spirit. Amen.

Going Under the Knife of God’s Word BY DAN DELZELL, SPECIAL TO CP

“There is really no easy way to say this: We have to operate.” While that hard truth is something a doctor says to a patient, it can also be applied to any person who is engaging in premeditated and deliberate sin. The only way to cut out the cancer of sin is through surgery. And only God can perform this task in a person’s soul.

The “surgeon’s knife” of the Great Physician is Scripture. “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Sinful strongholds get “cut out” of us as the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and works the miracle of “godly sorrow” in our heart.

So just what is “godly sorrow” you ask? Scripture informs us, “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” (2 Cor. 7:11) That’s quite a list, and only God can produce those things in the heart of a sinner.

There is a huge difference between “godly sorrow” and “worldly sorrow.” The Bible says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:10) Worldly sorrow is sorrow over getting caught. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is a miracle of God which leads a person to be truly alarmed at sinning against God. Worldly sorrow is of no benefit to a person’s soul, while godly sorrow is the result of the Lord’s supernatural surgery on man’s heart.

Without repentance, a person cannot be a Christian. “But I have faith.” Not without repentance you don’t. At least not biblical faith. True faith in Christ is always accompanied by the miracle of godly sorrow and the supernatural work of repentance in the heart. “But I thought I could repent on my own.” Nope. No can do. You need the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding your sin and the blessing of godly sorrow. The Word of God produces this life-changing result.

“We have to operate.” That is, we have to address the sin so that the sinner “owns it,” confesses it, and turns away from it. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

“But I thought I just had to confess it. What’s this renouncing stuff all about?” A person who renounces his sin turns away from it. He heads in the other direction. He hates the wicked and evil thing he had previously been pursuing. It is now repulsive to him. Why? Because surgery has been taking place in his heart. God has been cutting it out of him. That is to say, God has been replacing the man’s love for his sin with a hatred for it and a recognition of just how evil it is in God’s sight.

There is not one of us who hates our sin. But God does. And His work in our hearts produces a hatred for anything which is evil in our thinking and behavior. It’s not natural to hate our sin. Instead, it is the supernatural work of Almighty God. And it requires an invasive surgical procedure. This is why it is so critical to have the Word of God preached to us. This is where God “gets our attention” and begins to convict us of our sins. Without that conviction of sin, we cannot know God and we cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit.

If you want to know the Lord, you will need to go under the knife of God’s Word. There is no other way. And yes, it can be painful to be filled with remorse over sinful choices and wicked deeds. But you can thank God that you now recognize it as evil, whereas before, you were likely justifying it and rationalizing it. That’s what we tend to do as human beings. And we need God to grant us godly sorrow if we are going to make it to Christ. No godly sorrow results in no repentance and no salvation. That’s just the way this whole thing plays out.

This is why it is so critical for pastors to preach under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as they proclaim God’s Law and Gospel. If I don’t proclaim the Law, especially in a world clamoring for more “tolerance,” how will people become convicted of their sin and their need to repent? How will sinners turn away from sin unless they are told the truth from God’s Word? A surgeon cannot beat around the bush with a patient who needs immediate surgery. And if it is critical for the physical well-being of a person’s earthly body, how much more critical is it for the spiritual well-being of a person’s immortal soul?

Physical knives cannot get to the soul, but the Word of God cuts that deep. That is, when it is proclaimed through the power of the Holy Spirit and without changing it to sound acceptable to modern ears. If we tamper with God’s Word, we infect the “operating room” with our germs and we do great damage to the patient. The Holy Spirit will do His work if we are faithful to deliver the Word which God has given us to deliver. If we sugarcoat it, we become guilty of seeking to please man rather than the One who gave us His inspired and powerful Word.

No wonder biblical Christianity tends to be so unpopular with anyone who doesn’t want to go under the knife. The truth is that none of us really welcome surgery. We would rather assume the illness will go away all on its own. But we need to be told that some of our behavior is wicked and sinful.

Sinful? Who wants to hear that? Certainly not man in his natural state. But when man comes under the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, man begins to crave this “cutting away” of the cancer of sin within him. Man begins to hate his sin because God has started to produce this hatred for sin within man’s heart.

I know it sounds crazy to our natural way of thinking, but that’s just because it is supernatural and so “otherworldly.” Christianity is not about sinners trying to act holy. It goes so much deeper. It is about sinners going under the knife, and doing so over and over again.

Just as some people today are addicted to “cutting” their bodies, believers in Jesus have an addiction of sorts to being worked on by the sharp sword of the Holy Spirit. We crave it because we know we need it. We must regularly be pointed away from sin and directed toward righteousness. And only the Great Physician can perform this invasive surgical procedure upon man’s soul.

So the next time you sense God nudging you with the thought, “We need to operate,” go ahead and welcome that surgery as a necessary part of your spiritual healing. You can place complete trust in the Great Physician to heal your soul. And you will feel so much cleaner and stronger after going under the knife of God’s Word.

They did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. Joshua 5:12

Israel‘s weary wanderings were all over, and the promised rest was attained. No more moving tents, fiery serpents, fierce Amalekites, and howling wildernesses: they came to the land which flowed with milk and honey, and they ate the old corn of the land. Perhaps this year, beloved Christian reader, this may be thy case or mine. Joyful is the prospect, and if faith be in active exercise, it will yield unalloyed delight. To be with Jesus in the rest which remaineth for the people of God, is a cheering hope indeed, and to expect this glory so soon is a double bliss. Unbelief shudders at the Jordan which still rolls between us and the goodly land, but let us rest assured that we have already experienced more ills than death at its worst can cause us. Let us banish every fearful thought, and rejoice with exceeding great joy, in the prospect that this year we shall begin to be “for ever with the Lord.” A part of the host will this year tarry on earth, to do service for their Lord. If this should fall to our lot, there is no reason why the New Year‘s text should not still be true. “We who have believed do enter into rest.” The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance; He gives us “glory begun below.” In heaven they are secure, and so are we preserve in Christ Jesus; there they triumph over their enemies, and we have victories too. Celestial spirits enjoy communion with their Lord, and this is not denied to us; they rest in His love, and we have perfect peace in Him: they hymn His praise, and it is our privilege to bless Him too. We will this year gather celestial fruits on earthly ground, where faith and hope have made the desert like the garden of the Lord. Man did eat angels’ food of old, and why not now ? O for grace to feed on Jesus, and so to eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan this year!