Alive In Christ

Andy Hawthorne explores how we can live lives empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

I love the old story of JC Ryle, who was bishop of Liverpool in the late nineteenth century. He was travelling on a steam train and a young, zealous, fired-up Salvation Army officer was sitting near him. Seeing his dog collar and thinking he was part of the religious old guard, she thought, ‘He can’t be saved!’ So she asked him: ‘Are you saved?’

JC Ryle replied: ‘Well it depends what you mean by “saved”! You could say I’m drowning in a lake and when someone throws me a lifebelt, then I’m saved. You could say I’ve been pulled into the rescue boat and I’m on my way to shore – then I’m saved. Or, you could say I’m on the shore, on dry ground, thoroughly safe – and I’m saved. Sister, I think I’m in the boat.’

I’ve often said I want to be in the boat, rowing hard towards the shore. But perhaps that’s not the picture that God wants us to have. Perhaps God wants us to hoist the sail.

I’ve come to realise that it’s not about working hard on the oars, desperately trying to make progress in our own strength. What God wants is for us to hoist the sail and let the wind of the Spirit carry us to shore. It’s not about what we can do but about what Jesus did.

In Galatians 3, an exasperated Paul writes to a church caught up in trying to achieve their salvation in their own strength. ‘Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?’ he asks (Galatians 3:2).

Paul sums up the entire gospel message: “we preach Christ crucified”. 

Paul’s words absolutely remind us to rely on the wind of the Spirit in our sails, not our own effort. Before we get to the glorious shore, we need to let go and let the Spirit carry us home. But he also reminds us just how important it is that, as we are on our way to that shore, that we preach the gospel using our words. It’s what the Galatians heard that meant they received the Spirit.

Elsewhere, Paul sums up the entire gospel message in just four words: ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23). Cross-centred, Jesus-focused resurrection preaching is our message. It’s all about the message of the cross. He goes on to remind the church at Corinth that it wasn’t his eloquence or persuasion that convinced them of the truth of the gospel, it was a ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2:4).

It’s not about what we can do but about what Jesus did.

There is genuine, Holy Spirit power that comes when we share the gospel. At The Message, we spend most of our time telling people about Jesus – but I’m convinced the reason we see so many people come to follow him isn’t because we’re particularly clever or persuasive. It’s all about his power at work.

I wonder if you’re still trying to achieve your salvation through works. Maybe you’re asking, ‘If I could just give a bit more money away or serve more at church, maybe that might bring the favour of God on my life.’ The truth is this: you already have the favour of God on your life! He would still have sent Jesus to die if you were the only person he’d ever made. You’re his child.

I also wonder if you’re holding back from sharing the gospel with those around you because you don’t know if you’ll do a good job. Be encouraged: it’s the Holy Spirit who lives in you who does the work. Hoist the sails and let him take control.

 

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