I have previously written on the importance of the Holy Spirit in aligning our lives to God’s perfect will and have also noted the limits of a spiritually dead worldview as it relates to generosity. What I haven’t done, however, is examined what will emerge — and how it will emerge — if we get all of our ducks in a row.
What might it look like if we were to actually succeed in avoiding the desires of the flesh, producing the fruits of the Spirit, and leveraging the subsequent alignment toward reaching the Lost, healing the sick, and helping the needy? What might it look like if our actions were guided by the Love of God rather than the Love of Man?
My friend Robby Moeller recently wrote eloquently about having a “head for the poor,” but while this is an important point, I am also concerned that our hearts might be further off than we think (hint: we’re sinners). Like anyone else, Christians are prone to what the Apostle Paul calls “futile thinking” and “foolish hearts.” We are constantly struggling to overcome a debased, idolatry-prone worldview.
In short, I fear that we often give our “good intentions” the benefit of the doubt.
What is “good” in the first place, and according to whom? Does it have anything to do with truth, and if so, how does that impact our view of love? What does “effective” mean under such a framework, or what about “compassion”? Are there any intentions worth esteeming if they fail to orient themselves correctly?
We need to correct our brains, yes, but more fundamentally, we need a spiritual revival that aligns our hearts and minds accordingly. This will certainly impact our perspectives on loftier political and philosophical levels, but more importantly, it will transform the way we approach our most mundane of day-to-day tasks and choices. Unbeknownst to many, God actually speaks, and we have the amazing opportunity to listen. Sound “radical” yet?
As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, God So Loved, He Gave, we have been called into a movement of divine generosity — one in which we reject bondage of this world and embrace God’s absolute ownership over our lives. “When captured by the depths of God’s gifts in the gospel,” Kapic states, “we discover that he frees us to participate in his work of grace, hope, righteousness, and love. This is the generous life: this is what belonging to God is all about.”
Sin is all around us, and although we are typically good at talking about it in church (or at least we used to be), we seem to forget that it’s a constant competing force in our fundamental decisionmaking. “No human relationship is free from this corrosive power,” as Kapic states, yet in our attempts to build relationships and community we seem to think that “good intentions” are all that we need. Society, culture, and economics are driven by our individual choices and relationships, yet we pretend that our Christian mission can be widdled down to a hug, a free bowl of soup, and some constituant-building “anti-poverty” program. These, we assume, are obviously “good,” and thus our thought processes can conveniently end there. But without getting to the core of this basic shortsightedness, we will never listen long enough to know there’s a better way. Without taking advantage of the available transformation through Christ, we place severe limits on whatever forms of praxis we try to initiate.
So how do we avoid such faulted, debased reasoning? How do we enact our Biblical imperative to spread the Gospel, give to the poor, and heal the sick? How do we tie our vision of “progress” to His vision of the human individual?
Do we pull out our wallets and simply give them away to the first homeless person we see? Do we review the upcoming legislation and fall behind any program or policy labeled as being “anti-poverty”? Do we dig through our Bibles, looking for line-item instructions on how to balance our company’s books in 21st-century America? Do we cap our incomes at a magical number and go on a missions trip to Africa? If we can’t just feel or think our way to la-la land, what’s the secret formula?
Fortunately, it’s not that simple, and I say “fortunately” because the solution is far better: the Holy Spirit.
When we “walk by the Spirit,” the Apostle Paul says, we will “not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Instead, we will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Such a gift must not be taken for granted, and thus, when filled with the Holy Spirit, it should dominate our lives as intensely as it did for the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. As much as it might dismay the Christian progressive, this is what Acts 2:44-45 is really talking about.
It was this, Kapic notes — the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — that allowed the early church to accomplish what it did. It was this that led Stephen, Paul, and Barnabas to “proclaim the gospel in his power” and initiate “radical giving for the sake of those in need.” It was this that led seven men to “perform works of mercy and justice.” It was this that led the apostles to “speak the Word boldly” so that “there was not a needy person among them.”
As Kapic explains:
The Christians’ inspired testimony led to an experience of “great grace,” which was ultimately manifested in radical generosity. Christian charity flows from the Spirit-filled proclamation of the gospel (2 Corinthians 8:9, 1 John 3:16-17). Word led to deed.
Yes. “Word led to deed” — yet that Word was not in worship of some false god of economic materialism and those deeds were not aimless or mindless or counterproductive. They were effective, and not according to the apostles’ debased earthly standards. They were connected to a source that transcends scarcity.
This Spirit-filled impetus not only motivated the church, it led them and guided them into what those deeds should be (e.g. selling land). It changed the way they thought and felt, and likewise, it must change the way we behave. By leaving slavery for what Paul calls the “Spirit of Adoption,” our entire way of thinking and feeling aligns to His, and when this occurs, our actions will follow in the appropriate direction. As Kapic summarizes: The Spirit moves, the Gospel is proclaimed, and “God’s just and generous purposes” are enacted.
Through this orientation, we escape the debased, enslaving ways of this world and participate in a movement that liberates. Through this we avoid the limits of an earthly morality, becoming transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” Through this we become capable of testing and discerning “what is the will of God,” rather than merely justifying what is the will of ourselves. We become “a living sacrifice,” as Paul calls it.
As Kapic continues:
God’s Spirit fills his people with compassion and concern for those in greatest need; he grows different kinds of fruit in us, all expressed in love toward the other; and he provides amazing gifts to equip us to pursue the common good. God’s Spirit draws us into the life of God and allows us to extend that life and love to others. That is true life; that is freedom; that is a great gift. (emphasis added)
The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the Word on behalf of the poor because the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him. We will never be the healers, rebuilders and restorers we were called to be — the Remnant — if we fail to link to the same source.