The Glorious Body of Christ III: The Breath of Life - John 20:21-22

Many of you have seen movies where the goal was to make animated people as lifelike as possible. Unfortunately, the people-figures always seem to fall into what’s called the “uncanny valley”, where something that isn’t actually human looks so very human but at the same time not human that it’s really just creepy. It looks lifelike, but it isn’t alive.

This isn’t just something we see in movies; we can also see it in churches. Ezekiel 10 records a vision of the glory of God departing from the temple in judgment because of the sins of His people. But even though the life was gone from God’s temple, people kept coming and priests kept serving. The same thing happens in Matthew 23-24: Jesus comes and announces judgment on the temple, and then He leaves it desolate by removing His presence. But people kept coming and priests kept serving, until the judgment that Jesus prophesied fell on them in 70ad.

Ever since Genesis 2, where God breathes the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils and he becomes a living being, we see that life comes from the Spirit of God. “It is the Spirit who gives life;” John 6:63 says, “the flesh is no help at all.” And so as we continue with the metaphor of the Church as the body of Christ the Head, we see that the Holy Spirit is the breath that gives life to the body. Where the Spirit is absent, a church may claim the name of Jesus and go through the motions, but there is no life there; just an uncanny valley church. But where the Spirit is present, however humble the service or few the people, God is breathing spiritual life into that congregation!

We know we want to be part of a Spirit-filled church and not a dead church, but it’s easy to look at all the wrong things as signs of the Spirit’s presence. Outwardly passionate or emotional worship, a church full of people with multiple services, and a full slate of programs and events may be wonderful things, but they don’t tell you whether or not the Spirit is truly present. You don’t need the Spirit to stir the emotions, draw a crowd, or fill a schedule.

Fortunately, God’s Word gives us many signs and tests that do serve as indicators of the Spirit’s presence. Three of the most crucial are truth, fruit, and holiness.

First, 1 John 4 tells us that the Spirit tells the truth about Jesus; that He is the Son of God come in the flesh. A Spirit-filled church is a truth-telling church. When a church doesn’t confess the truth about Jesus, or when they stop confessing the truth, this is a sign that the Spirit is no longer giving them life. Truth and the Spirit are bound together, and so if one goes, the other goes as well.

Second, the Spirit’s presence and work has recognizable effects on God’s people, so that a Spirit-filled congregation is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A congregation marked by these attributes is alive in the Spirit.

Third, the Spirit works holiness in God’s people. Holiness is recognized in heartfelt repentance, when we confess our sins to God and one another in such a way that our relationships are restored. Holiness shows up as obedience as the Spirit enables and prompts us to keep God’s law. Holiness also reveals itself in our affections as we grow in love for God, and as these affections lead to acts of devotion in our work, witness, and worship.

When the Spirit is present, truth and fruit and holiness are all evident and increasing together. No church fully or perfectly embodies these signs of the Spirit, but growth in these areas shows that the Spirit is at work, and we know that He who begins such a good work will carry it on to completion.

Because this is what the Spirit’s work looks like, I rejoice to see evidence of the Spirit’s life-giving presence here in this congregation. I see it in the way you love one another. I see it in the way you rejoice in the truth about Jesus. I see it as you put sin to death and walk in righteousness. I see it when you care for the poor, reconcile with one another, commit to reading the Bible, share the gospel with neighbors and friends, find peace in the middle of financial struggles, broken marriages, life-threatening illnesses, and deep grief, and when you glorify and enjoy Jesus as one body. The Spirit of God is here, and He is giving you life in and through this church, so that you are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 by CJ Bowen