Beyond Ourselves

John LathropBlog

Many people today are trying to improve themselves. They are studying longer, working harder, managing their time better, and generally being more disciplined. This is commendable, indeed all of us should want to be the best that we can be; we should want to maximize our potential. This pursuit of excellence is evident in many fields of work and sports. Part of the reason for this push for personal improvement is competition; the competition in our world is intense. Companies generally hire the best and brightest candidates and sports teams hire the most promising athletes. This drives the quest for excellence. In some cases people have even cheated in order to gain a competitive edge, they have sought outside help. For example, contrary to the rules, some athletes have used performance enhancing drugs. This may give them an edge, but it is neither legal nor proper.

As believers in Jesus Christ we should also want to be the best that we can be. The truth is, that in order for us to do this, we need outside help, we cannot do it on our own. However, the help we need is permissible, if we are going to be our best for the Lord this help is essential. We have been called to at least two things that are impossible humanly speaking. We have been called to be holy, conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), and we have been called to be effective witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). Neither one of these are possible without outside help; we need divine help. This has been made available to us in the person of the Holy Spirit. This outside helper has come to live inside of each Christian (Rom. 8:9).

In order to have the character of Jesus Christ in operation in our lives we need the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This fruit is not something that is naturally produced. If we are to live like Jesus on a regular basis we need to be vitally connected to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who creates, or grows, the godly traits that Scripture calls the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). These qualities are diametrically opposed to the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). The apostle Paul tells us that if we live according to the Spirit then we will not fulfill our sinful desires (Gal 5:16). So, the Spirit leads us away from sin and toward holiness and righteousness, as we are yielded to Him. Though we use our free will in the course of living our Christian life, our willpower cannot produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We must depend on the Spirit for that. 

But a Christian might say “I don’t feel the Holy Spirit.” Most of us can identify with this statement. There are times when we do not consciously sense the Holy Spirit. But, whether we feel His Presence or not He is with us. Our feelings do not validate or invalidate God’s truth. During those times when we do not sense God’s Presence we need to accept by faith what God has said (that the Spirit is with us) and ask Him to empower us to live out the character of Jesus. This is a prayer that He will honor because it is in the will of God (1 John 5:14-15), God wants us to be holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16), to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

As believers we have also been called to share the message of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). This can be a challenging, and in some contexts, fearful ministry to be involved in. One who shares the gospel message may encounter resistance, rejection, and possibly overt hostility, up to and including death. When we share the gospel we are coming up against the wills of men and women who love darkness rather than light (John 3:19), whose hearts have been darkened and whose minds have been blinded (Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4) and against evil spirits who reject the work and will of God (Eph. 6:11-12; 1 John 5:19). We are not sufficient in and of ourselves to meet these challenges. In the face of them we need courage and power, divine power. 

The Lord has given us what we need in the person of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Jesus told His followers not to engage in their evangelistic mission until they had received the power of the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). They apparently understood this truth because they waited in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them to. If you quickly survey some of the passages in the New Testament that speak about the infilling of the Spirit, you will see that the Spirit is regularly mentioned in texts that speak about the Word being proclaimed (Acts 2:4, 14; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 1 Pet. 1:12). In some passages, the speaker, or speakers, were empowered by the Spirit to speak the Word in the midst of adverse circumstances (Acts 4:8, 31; 1 Thess. 1:5-6). We still need this empowerment in our day!

In this area also there are times when the believer may not sense the Holy Spirit. That is, one may not be consciously aware of the power of the Spirit being in operation when he or she shares the gospel. I think it is possible for a believer to feel fear and still have the power of Spirit in operation when they are sharing Christ. In 1 Corinthians 2, the apostle Paul wrote about his ministry in the city of Corinth. He told the Corinthians that he came to them “in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3 NIV). But in the very next verse he writes about the Spirit’s power being at work in his ministry (1 Cor. 2:4). We should all take comfort in that. The Spirit enables the preacher and works in the hearer to be receptive to the message. We still need His help today!

We need divine empowerment to lead a godly life and to reach out to others. The Spirit was given to help us in both of these areas. May God help us to avail ourselves of all that the Spirit has to offer us, so that we can truly live beyond ourselves. Not in order to put ourselves forward, but so that we can be everything God wants us to be and do everything He wants us to do. 

John Lathrop

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and  Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.