Too Deep for Words

I recently watched a very interesting documentary called Spitfire: The Plane That Saved the World. It followed the development of the Supermarine Spitfire through it’s various iterations and models from the Battle of Britain to saving Malta to the air war over Europe. They showed many refitted and reworked Spitifires, talked to pilots, and examined how important the fighter was in World War II. And, I got introduced to a lady named Mary Eillis.

You see, we tend to focus on the planes and the pilots who fought for Great Britain during the war. But, we miss some very important people: the ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Mary Ellis, whose maiden name was Wilkins, grew up on a farm in Leafield, Oxfordshire. Born in 1917, she developed a fascination with flying at a very early age. At age 11, her father paid for a joy ride in a biplane at a county fair. She was hooked. She started taking lessons at age 16, eventually earning her pilot’s license. She flew for fun until 1939 when all civilian flying was suspended because of World War II.

In 1941, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. She, along with many other women, delivered airplanes from the factory to the front. She ferried over 1,000 planes, including over 400 Spitfires — 76 different kinds of planes in all. Following the war, Mary was seconded to the Royal Air Force where she continued ferrying aircraft — including being the first woman to fly the Gloster Meteor, Great Britain’s first jet.

Like many other folks we may overlook, she and the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary made important and noteworthy contributions to the war. But, we often don’t see those folks that make things happen.

do we pay attention?

Let me ask you something: How do we live this life? Paul answers the question for us in Romans 8, one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8.1-2). 

For Paul, there is something about that life in the Spirit that is, well, so life-giving.  “…[H]e who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8.11b). In basic outline here in Romans 8, Paul gives us what we need to know about the divine person and heavenly power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as the fully divine partner of God and of Jesus is about life. The problem is, we don’t always pay much attention to the Holy Spirit. We don’t always pay attention to the person who helps things happen in our lives.

Now, ours is a life understanding what Jesus did for us. Because of Jesus, we are set free from the law of sin and death — there is no condemnation for those who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23) and for those who are ungodly (Romans 5.6). It is these kind of folks for whom Christ died — folks like me and you. Yet, because we have said “Yes” to Jesus we are set free by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. There is therefore now no condemnation. The person and work of Jesus is the doorway to this life in the Spirit. 

It’s not just any life, it’s a life transformed by the Spirit. We no longer set our minds on the things of the flesh or the things of this earth for that is death. Setting our minds on the Spirit is life and health and peace.

no middle road

The whole point of this kind of life is living a life that is pleasing to God. As Paul describes it, there is no middle road. We either live by the Spirit or we live by the flesh. That thinking transforms the way we live, the way we approach God, each other, and the world. Because of the Spirit we may operate differently in this world.

Being transformed is certainly important, but we, like Paul describing his troubles at the end of Romans 7, may feel like we cannot do the things God calls us to do. Paul reminds us that we can live a life empowered by the Spirit. God who raised Christ from the dead gives life to these mortal minds and bodies; if we live by the Spirit, Paul says we will put the kibosh on those things that take us from God.  

What Paul is saying is that the Spirit helps us walk through this life, choosing God, choosing Jesus, choosing righteousness, choosing holiness, choosing peace. You know, even if we do not know what to pray, the Spirit intervenes with God on our behalf with “groanings to deep for words” (Romans 8. 26). If Paul needed help, if Paul struggled, what makes us think we will not need help, that we will not struggle to live before God in pleasing ways? That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. We must live in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, the point for Paul was a life knowing whose we are through the Spirit. God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Christ Jesus. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this realization for our lives. Whatever happens in us, whatever happens in this life. Paul wants us to know that we are God’s children.  

And, the benefits of such a relationship are immeasurable and eternal. Because of Jesus and the witness of the Holy Spirit, we belong to God. Knowing who we are, really knowing in our heads and in our hearts, changes the way we live. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit, helping us live this life because the Spirit helps us know who we are.

a better fighter

Taking place in the twelfth century during the Crusades, the movie Kingdom of Heaven depicts the main character, Balian, as faced with defending a Christian Jerusalem against an overwhelming force of Muslims under Saladin. He encourages the people by reminding them that they are not fighting for stones and sites; rather, they are fighting for their homes and families. He has few if any knights with which to fight, a point the Archbishop of Jerusalem makes just before the battle.  

Balian then moves to knight all the men at arms in the city. He uses a boy to knight, giving him the oath of a knight: “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless. That is your oath.”  Then Balian slaps the boy, saying, “And that is so you will remember it….Rise a knight. Rise a knight,” he says to all the men kneeling to take the oath. After finishing, the Archbishop snarls: “Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?” Balian replies, “Yes.”

You know, Paul and John Welsey would have agreed with the “spirit” of Balian’s, “Yes.” Knowing who we are changes how we live. John Wesley was not far from Paul in thinking of the Holy Spirit in these terms. In fact, the Holy Spirit was at the center of Wesley’s understanding of living this Christian life.  

Like Paul’s understanding, the Holy Spirit is fully divine, equal in divinity with the Father and the Son. Even more, the Holy Spirit is not simply some force or energy working in our lives like we hear of “The Force” in Star Wars. The Holy Spirit is personal folks, personal, and deeply involved in our lives.

The Holy Spirit is God’s very Self active in human life. Listen very closely: the Holy Spirit is God’s very Self active in human life. Daniel Luby observes of Wesley, “Grace for Wesley [was] the pardoning, transforming love of God, present to us in the indwelling Person of the Holy Spirit.” All that God offers us is present to us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Wesley described the work of the Holy Spirit this way: “[The life of God in the soul of the believer] immediately and necessarily implies the continual inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit: God’s breathing into the soul, the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, the re-action of the soul upon God….And hence we may infer the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul (whatsoever it be called) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein.”

let me splamalate that

A friend of mine’s grandchildren have a phrase when they don’t understand something: “Can you splamalate that to me?” Let me “splamalate” what Wesley said. That inspiration, or continuous breathing between God and the human soul, was the breath of life; it is animating, it is quickening, it is exciting, it is inflaming. God breathes on us, we breathe God into our lives; then we breathe back upon God, and God breathes on us again. “It [is] a [continual] process of character [and soul] formation that is made possible by a restored participation of fallen humanity in the Divine life and power.” That is to say, this breathing between God and the soul is the stuff of sanctification or making us holy.  

That life-giving work, breathing between the divine and human, is the domain of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit calls us to a relationship with God, witnesses that we are God’s children in our hearts, gives us the fruit of life we need, guides us as we walk these roads, and graciously gifts us with mighty things to serve God’s church. That’s the in-breathing work of the Holy Spirit that heals these human souls restoring that lost Image of God in us.

And, Wesley’s contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, though, is very distinctive. Wesley argued that the primary job of the Holy Spirit is to witness to us that we are saved. That’s right, the Holy Spirit gives us assurance of salvation; and his arguments read just like what Paul wrote in Romans 8. 

We are God’s children through the saving work of Jesus Christ. The benefits of such a relationship are, frankly, immeasurable and eternal. Because of Jesus and the witness of the Holy Spirit in our souls, we may know and be assured that we belong to God. Knowing who we are, really knowing, changes the way we live.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit, helping us live this life.

The Holy Spirit has a way of taking our failures, mistakes, and brokenness turning them into something worthy of God. That’s how we live this life. We dare and do trusting in the Lord. It doesn’t mean we’re foolish; it’s not about taking calculated risks. It’s about understanding who we are. We are loved. Our failures and foibles can become leaps of faith. Our ideas, our lives are not bound by what we see around us. They are freed by what we find in us — the Holy Spirit.  

It is for freedom that God has set us free. We’re not falling forward into understanding failure in this world. We’re falling forward into the arms of God that we might learn to trust God’s moves in us and through us, that we might continually breathe this holy breath of the living God — inspiring, animating, quickening, exciting, and inflaming. It’s a holy work, like the prayers of the Holy Spirit on our behalf, that is too deep for words.

assurance of who we are

That’s what assurance is about in living this life. Truth is, we’d fail every time. We have failed many times in our lives — all, not some, all fall short of the glory of God. Our assurance comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul thought it was important enough to remind people that they were heirs with Christ. Wesley thought it was important enough to make sure people understood that they could know assurance of salvation. That knowledge changes the way we live. We might ask the Archbishop’s question this way, “Does making someone a child of God make them a better person?” Yes. It really does.

That’s the point of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit changes the way we live because the Spirit reminds us of who we are. The Holy Spirit helps us learn, grow, and understand. The Holy Spirit assures us of our salvation. The Holy Spirit connects us with God in deep and powerful ways. The Holy Spirit, in short, helps us live this life, even if we don’t pay much attention to the Spirit. The Spirit demands little credit, but the show provided by the Spirit is spectacular. It’s life-changing. It’s how we should live our lives.

So, do we live empowered by the Spirit or strengthened by our selves? Corrie ten Boom explains it this way: “I have a glove in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts. We are gloves. It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job. We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.” Let’s just say we’ll never make it on our own, we need that inbreathing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Amen.

A text for the table: Romans 8.12-17, 26-39.

Photo Credits: “Mary Ellis and Spitfire” and “Holy Spirit Mosaic.”