Sent with the Spirit

John 20:19-23 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

By Chuck Griffin

To pick up where I left off Friday, there is a particular moment in this resurrection appearance story I want to explore.

When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he indicated the true role of the church, the global church of believers. We are to act as the body of Christ, as a group continuing the work Jesus began through his teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

Here’s my immediate impression: What an honor! God allows us to participate in work he could easily do himself. We are reminded of how we were initially created, as images of the one who made us.

As mere reflections of God, we of course cannot continue Christ’s work while relying on our own power. We instead must depend on God’s power being present among us and within us. Which brings us to the next moment in the story.

Jesus breathed on these men who would be the early church leaders and planters, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I think of this as a mini-Pentecost, an event we will celebrate Sunday, May 23. These men received early the gift that would fall upon the church in full after Jesus’ ascension.

Tired and afraid, hiding out, I’m sure they needed his power to begin their new roles.

The gift of the Spirit has been transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it will remain present somewhere in the world until Christ returns in full. We have to actively share the story of Jesus and bring people to belief, however, if they are to receive the gift.

Otherwise, we are in danger of living in one of those places on the planet where the Spirit once worked powerfully but now is not visible because of a lack of heart-felt evangelism and adherence to God’s teachings.

In this story, we also see a powerful concept we as the church are to offer to the world, the idea that forgiveness is possible even for what we consider terrible sins. True repentance—a desire to put sin behind us and turn toward God—is required, of course, but once we repent, God makes restoration easy, trusting the church to recognize it and declare it to have happened.

This message of forgiveness is something the world desperately needs to hear, particularly in our increasingly secular culture, where an escalating game of “Gotcha!” seems to be underway.

You’ve seen what I am talking about: Opponents dredge up sins from decades ago to use against each other, trying to tell the world, “That’s who that person really is!” Where there is no room for forgiveness, there is no room for restoration and growth, and we all are left to bite and devour each other until nothing remains.

As part of our efforts to evangelize the world, the most attractive part of our message may be the concept of forgiveness, of lives changed. As members of Christ’s global church, let’s remember to inject lessons of forgiveness into a gotcha kind of world.

Yes, Lord, sin remains in the world, even in our lives. Thanks to you for giving us and others a way out, a way to grow, a way to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Hellish Behaviors

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Galatians 5:15 (NLT): But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

As painful as it is to consider, let’s take a few moments to imagine what life in hell must be like. I’m not going to deal with all the fire-and-brimstone imagery—while there are some fiery biblical images associated with Satan or hell in the Bible, much of what we imagine is rooted more in secular literature.

Here’s what I suspect is really painful about hell. It is a place where souls are cut off from the grace of God. (Grace simply is unmerited love, given freely to the undeserving.) In hell, God no longer gently tugs at people to make them aware of his existence; God no longer provides a way to escape the power of sin; certainly, God no longer works as the Holy Spirit to grow us toward a state of holiness.

And of course, if God is not present to inject grace into people’s broken existence, then people cannot possibly show grace to one another. If there’s any kind of society in hell, it is a nasty, backbiting, hateful, grudge-holding, vengeance-seeking kind of culture.

I fear some people are trying to develop a little microcosm of hell in our own culture right now. Popularly, it’s called cancel culture. If you’ve ever tripped up, letting poor judgment lead you to say or do the wrong thing, you’re liable to pay, big!

Criminal behavior needs to be dealt with, of course—under the rule of law. A lot of the criminal events triggering our current social unrest, such as the killing of George Floyd, will be settled under the rule of law. And if the rule of law needs to be changed, we have a process for that to happen. You go to the polls and you vote for representatives who will make that change.

What strikes me as strange are the efforts to destroy people for decades-old poor judgment, when the cultural context for what they may or may not have done was very different. We saw a glimmer of this when Neil Gorsuch was being vetted for the U.S. Supreme Court, as opponents went as far back as his high school years in an attempt to discredit him.

Such deep, unforgiving vetting is now a bizarre extension of the social unrest we’re seeing. It has gone so far that statues of brilliant-but-imperfect historical figures are being torn down. The basic complaint: People living in the 15th through the 20th centuries didn’t have 21st century values.

Well, duh. We honor most of these people with statues not because they had it all figured out, but because in difficult times they figured out important pieces of the grand puzzle, helping us see the clearer picture we have today.

Back to the need for grace from God and grace for each other. In the Galatians text above, Paul makes clear what happens as we begin to bite and devour one another—destruction! In Romans 3:23, he also notes another important fact: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

There do seem to be important developments that show the Bible to be right. Some of the people who might have initially supported much of this divisive behavior are now finding themselves bitten as their shortcomings become public, be it over the wearing of blackface, insensitive tweets or some other sin of speech or action. It helps when we remember the “everyone has sinned” part.

Perhaps we will soon get to a place where we all take a breath, rub our painful bite marks, and say, “Let’s show each other a little grace. Let’s try to work together as the people we are now, rather than fighting over who we used to be.”

In an environment like that, we will better deal with both our history and our current crises. God might even bless us anew.

Lord, give us the long pause we need to overcome animosity and rebuild our nation, trusting the scriptural truth that your forgiving grace is always available and can be imitated. Amen.