AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE
¶ You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him.
Christianity is often popularly thought of as being basically the same as all other religions. To the informed this assertion is literally: incredible. There are three outstanding reasons why Christianity is incredibly unique in the world of religious thought. The first is that Christianity alone has a divine Saviour. The second is that this divine Saviour graciously bestows God's favour on those He redeems. And the third is far less known outside of Christian circles...
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.Romans 14:17
NOT MERELY ABOUT DEVOTION
All religions require devotion - a deep commitment to certain beliefs and practices. Christianity is certainly no exception in this regard. But there is a world of difference when it comes to how and why this devotion is done. Unlike every other religion, Christian devotion is supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Christian is uniquely enabled to live their devotion in the Spirit. This is the secret of the Christian life. To be in the Spirit is to have "power" to be devoted to God.
[That you might know...] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.
In fact, becoming a Christian begins by a transforming work the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). A person cannot become a Christian by merely by turning over a new leaf. It requires a deeply transforming work by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's work in the heart of the redeemed is often referred to as being "born-again". When a person is born of the Spirit, their life-focus changes; their priorities are dramatically re-organised; and they become aware of things previously unnoticed.
FOCUS, PRIORITIES, PERSPECTIVE
The Christian journey begins uniquely. While other religions have "rights of passage" or "initiation rites" or ceremonies, Christianity begins with a profoundly supernatural transformation. It translates the redeemed from being lost, purposeless, and blind to in the Spirit. This causes the redeemed to be focussed, prioritised, and spiritually enabled to hear and see spiritual things.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
In 65AD, the Apostle John had just been banished to the Isle of Patmos by order of Caesar Nero. This followed a failed attempt to martyr him with boiling oil. Now on this rocky, isolated, outcrop, John had every reason not to 'feel' particularly spiritual or even glad to be a Christian! But he took the steps to be in the Spirit (Rev. 1:10). Being in the Spirit changes your focus. Rather than looking at what was going wrong and making his life uncomfortable, John chose to be in the Spirit through prayer, stillness, and worship. On the Lord's Day, John went in the Spirit. This Sunday, as you prepare to meet for worship, get in the Spirit.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
Being in the Spirit changes your priorities. After our focus is shifted off us, our problems, our circumstances, our priorities are re-ordered to The Throne of God and we are left to do what we can only do when confronted with the Throne of God's presence: worship. You can tell when someone is in the Spirit because they are worshipping. As the Apostle John set himself to be in the Spirit amidst his negative circumstances, he was once again in the Spirit when he witnessed the most dramatic scene of worship the universe has ever hosted.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne...¶ "Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created."
Revelation 4:2, 11
When someone is in the Spirit their life is re-prioritised. The unappreciated important things now become appropriatedly important. People are no longer problems to be avoided but objects of consideration, care, and blessing. Difficult circumstances which previously determined our mood undergo a gaussian blur as they give-up their foreground position and retreat unnoticed into the background. Words offered thoughtlessly and uninvited increasingly become words of profundity, life and encouragement.
This might give the impression that living in the Spirit makes a person weird. I guess this is why people striving to appearspiritual end up looking and sounding spooky. But living in the Spirit is utterly natural - in fact, supernatural. When King David wrote Psalm 110 I suspect he was offering an idea bouncing around his head. But when Jesus cites David at this instance He says, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying..." (Matt. 22:43). Being in the Spirit doesn't make you strangely weird, but it does make you strangely natural.
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.
After John's time on Patmos, he was able to return to Jerusalem. Being in the Spirit his perspective of Jerusalem had now changed. He saw it as "Sodom and Egypt...where they crucified their Lord" (Rev. 11:8), and in the language of Jeremiah, as "Babylon...the Harlot" (Rev. 17:5). He was now aware of true reality. In this instance, what many people thought of as pure, holy, God-approved, John, in the Spirit, now saw for what it really was. Discernment is not just a special gift of the Spirit, it is theperspective of the Spirit. Being in the Spirit makes you aware of spiritual opposition so that you maintain your focus on worshipping God! People who discern evil at work and get distracted by it are not fully in the Spirit. John was made aware of Jerusalem's Spiritual Leaders being like a Prostitute who was full of 'blasphemous names' but he remained in the Spirit to continue to focus on God - His glory, and His plan of redemption.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God
While it seemed like 'all hell' was breaking loose against the Church of the Apostle John's day, he was able to be in the Spirit and thereby given a different perspective. Does life feel like 'all hell' is breaking loose at the moment? Walk in the Spirit. A major component of this is opening yourself up to God to be in the Spirit is others. When you arein the Spirit you adopt a concern for others despite what you are going through. Note what Paul the Apostle says happens when a believer 'prays in the Spirit' -
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
To that end keep alert with all perseverance,
making supplication for all the saints
The things that help a believer to get in the Spirit are the things that a believer is led to do when they are then in the Spirit:
- Prayer- Openness to hear God (note the constant exhortation in the opening chapters of Revelation, "...let him who has ears, hear what the Spirit is saying...")- Yielding to God and asking to be used by God.
Ephesians 6:18 starts off in the Spirit and ends with supplication for all the saints. Once in the Spirit the believer becomes focussed on God and His glory, reprioritised to worship, and spiritually aware. They way they speak becomes life-giving. Their acts of kindness for others become divinely-timed - all because they are in the Spirit. This is the incredible difference between Christianity and all of the world's religions. While Christianity is a unique religion because it is birthed and lived out in the Spirit, what is largely unknown, is that this unique difference can only be accepted by someone when there is a work of the Spirit in their heart. And while we can see that following Christ is religiously unique and a profoundly divinely-spiritual enterprise, this does not justify the redeemed taking a posture of arrogance. On the contrary, the incredible difference that Christianity makes to a human soul also tames pride and infuses child-like humility.
¶ In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
It is my hope that every believe can only show theoretically how (in)credibly different Christianity is from other religions, but that by living in the Spirit they make this incredible difference incredibly obvious.