The Identity and Aspects of Every Learner
I. How do we respond to trials? According to Hebrews 12, those who have believed into Christ can receive comfort in His disciple-making tool of trials—His discipline. God's discipline ensures those who trust Him of their status as His accepted children.
"It is for discipline that you endure," writes the author. "God deals with you as with sons [as with reconized children]. For what recognized child is there whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all recognized children have become partakers, then you are rejected, illegitimate children—not recognized children. Furthermore we have had the fathers of our flesh as discipliners and we respected them; shall we not much more be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined for a a few days as it seemed good to them; but He, for what is profitable that we might partake of His holiness" (7–10).
II. We can work and pray.
A. In the book of Job, when Job is afflicted, one of his "friends" reminds him of his past faithfulness toward God in serving others: "Indeed, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have raised up him who was stumbling, and you have made the bowed knees strong" (4:3–4). In an agricultural society, weak hands could not be put to work, nor could they be lifted in prayer. Bowed knees hobbled walking, and they hobbled kneeling for prayer. In the face of adversity, it's easy to do less and to pray less, saving energy and resources but abandoning service and strength in the process.
B. Whether we are enduring the corrective prods of God's shepherding staff or the pains of the human condition that God uses to refine us, the author of Hebrews reminds us that God's discipline is for a purpose: that we might partake of His holiness (12:10b). Then he continues: "Now no discipline at the present time seems to be a matter of joy, but of grief; but afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised by it. Therefore set straight the hands which hang down and the paralyzed knees, and make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame [those in the church who are stumbling in unrighteousness] might not be put out of joint [might not cripple the entire local church] but might rather be healed [might be restored to health by remaining connected]. Pursue peace with all men and sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord" (11–14).
C. Note again the emphasis on hands and knees.
1. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon stood in the midst of the court on a platform. "Then he knelt on his knees in front of all the congregation of Israel and spread out his hands toward the heavens. Then he prayed…" (II Chronicles 6:13–14a).
2. The Apostle Paul yearned in his first letter to Timothy: "I desire therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pious hands, without wrath and disputing" (2:8).
3. Moses bowed his face to the ground in prayer (Exodus 34:8–9).
The Physical Matters to God
I. However we respond to trials, we respond physically.
A. The specific posture we adopt in prayer, whether a posture of prostration, kneeling, standing, bowing the head, or raising the hands may not be of upmost importance.
B. Recognizing that posture affects prayer, however, is important.
1. The postures recorded in Scripture can change a person's mindset in ways valued in monotheistic religions, just as the postures adopted in yoga can change a person's mindset in ways valued in hinduism.
2. Since pantheistic religions like hinduism strive to be all-inclusive, yoga includes a posture of prostration, which effects humility and an attitude of service.
3. Since monotheistic religions like Christianity differentiate between "good" and "bad" spiritual powers, however, none of the hatha yoga postures or breathwork for gathering universal energies into the Third Eye is included in Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
C. What's of upmost importance is to recognize that we can't assume any posture, nor can we pray, nor work, nor speak, apart from our physicality. Whatever we do, we do it physically, and the physical matters to God.
II. There were two heresies in New Testament times that denigrated the body: gnosticism and doceticism.
A. Gnosticism taught that the physical body is evil: that our senses were the source of evil. It prioritized enlightenment, or Divine knowledge (gnosis in Greek), which its adherents believed was available to a select, privileged few.
B. Doceticism, a sort of "Gnosticism for Dummies," taught that the body was irrelevant: the Messiah didn't need to take on human form and die; he only seemed to do both. (The root word for doceticism, dokeō, means "to seem" in Greek.)
III. While some leaders in the Emergent Church movement have been resurrecting a gnostic spirituality in reaction to our consumer-driven, sex-saturated culture, a pernicious doceticism already abounds: contemporary Christians often live as if the physical doesn't matter.
A. Many believers view supporting the arms of an elderly or infirm believer who wants to raise her hands in prayer as kind, perhaps, but ultimately useless ornamentation. That's not how Scripture sees it.
B. Many believers, too, are ready to squelch a more emotional brother or sister's unencumbered prayer or praise—to say nothing of the heartfelt, flowing prayer or praise of a brother or sister with cognitive disabilities—as out of place in a local church service.
C. Many Christians think nothing of joining a yoga class so we can focus, relax, and re-center on what matters, yet we rarely kneel or raise our hands in prayer… to focus, relax, and re-center on what really matters. We follow the example of yogis, but we neglect the example of our Lord.
D. Even if we profess otherwise, we act like neo-docetics, pretending that the spiritual is all that mattered to Christ and is all that ought to matter to us. Scripture doesn't support that view.
IV. To God, the physical matters.
A. We sin as embodied creatures—in Biblical Greek: somas.
B. We live to God as somas.
C. This side of the grave, and even after the resurrection, we're forever somas.
D. Hence, Paul urges his Roman readers, "through the compassions of God, to present your bodies (your somas) as a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
The Nous: We're Not Just Minds-in-Bodies
I. Nous is a common word in the New Testament.
A. Paul continues his letter to the Romans, for instance:"And do not be fashioned according to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the nous that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and well pleasing and perfect" (12:2).
B. What's the nous? That's an important question because according to Ephesians 6:4, we're supposed to nurture our children in it. Paul writes, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the nurture of and 'power to know by nous' the Lord." The nous is at least one way we come to know the Lord.
C. The gospel of Mark tells of a a scribe who asked Jesus to name the most important commandment. The scribe, concurring with Jesus' reply, said, "Well said, Teacher. In truth You have said that He is one and there is not another besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as himself—[to do this is] more than all the whole of burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:32–33). The Scribe grasped the heart of God. (I Samuel 15:22, Psalm 40:6–8, Micah 6:6–8). "And Jesus, seeing that he answered nounecw (literally, 'using nous'), said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God'" (Mark 12:34a). Using nous, the scribe understood the heart of God. Clearly, nous is important… but what is it?
II. Before we proceed, it's important to remember that Scripture speaks in what's called "phenomenological language"; it describes the world as it appears to humans. God, being aquatinted with the needs of those He created, communicated in a way that His original audience could understand without modern science.
A. When Psalm 103:11–12 speaks of God separating our sins as far as the east is from the west, modernists may snicker, "The east and west aren't really separate. Hee. Hee. Look at those ignorant Hebrews and duped Christians."
B. But as a postmodernist or believer would be quick to point out: from the perspective of a person standing on a sphere, east and west don't appear to meet. That perspective is valid, and it's the one God is using to describe what He does with the sins of those who believe.
III. So what's nous?
The Nous: Our "Spiritual Sniffer"
I. According to Doug Heidebrecht, in his article "The Renewal of Perception," "The etymology of nous can be traced back to the root meaning 'to sniff,' which suggests a way of acquiring knowledge through the sense of smell. In early Greek literature (Homer), nous referred not to an intellectual organ (brain) but to a function which was defined as the ability to realize fully 'the true nature or essence of a thing as against its surface appearance.' It was the ability to perceive a camouflaged enemy soldier hiding among the rocks…. Though we may not be able to say definitively that Paul's use of nous mirrored understanding of the term within Greek philosophy and first century Judaism, the possibility is clearly present."
A. There's no known connection to the Greek here, but to help you remember the connection between nous and smell, it might help to see the Old English word for "nose": nosu.
B. Physiologically, smell is the only sense that is not filtered or "gated" by our brain before reaching our consciousness. If we smell it, we're aware of it, at least at first—a stark contrast to the literally millions of impressions we hear or see each day without noticing.
1. Think of the last time you went car shopping. Remember the model you looked at? Do you remember how many you suddenly started seeing on the road?
2. Our brain filters or "gates" what we hear and see—we hear and see, in part, what we expect to hear and see. Many times, we don't hear or see what we don't expect to hear or see. Our brain literally "gates," or blocks from our consciousness as irrelevant, non-intense sights and sounds that we don't expect. In contrast, what we smell is gated by the smelling organ itself.
3. Since the conscious brain is so little involved in smelling, smell is our most basic sense—related more directly than any other to our sense of safety and survival. When we smell the familiar and safe, other things being equal, we feel familiar and safe.
4. Both smell and taste are very related to the functional divisions in the aspect of our nervous system that controls processes largely outside our conscious awareness: the autonomic nervous system, which we'll explore soon.
II. In Philippians 2:5, Paul urged believers, "Let this nous be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Plugging in our definition, we read, "Let this ability that Christ had to perceive without sight, as if by smell, the very nature of things—let it be in you, too." Nous is that ability. Perhaps the closest English word is intuition. Nous (intuition) is different from sunihmi: the ability to know by the light of the sun, to mentally "see," to intellectually understand. Nous is frequently translated "mind" in our Bibles, but it's not the same as intellectual understanding. This is important in understanding, from the Bible's perspective, what it means to be human. It's also important in recognizing the potential for people with mental impairments to intuit, or "apprehend, as if by smell" a knowledge of God sufficient for salvation, even if they aren't able to explain what they know with words.
III. Nous is but one way the Bible uses phenomenological language in its choice of human body parts for metaphors of ways we live. Others—with connections more direct than that between nous and "spiritual nose"—include the heart, kidneys, and bowels. Unfortunately, most English Bibles "translate away" these references, avoiding awkwardness for the modern reader but also robbing contemporary believers of everyday, bodily reminders—somatic reminders—of precious truths of God.
I. Biblically, we are to see through our eyes (using sight to inform what we know), rather than with our eyes (believing everything we see). We are to hear through our ears, too (using sound to inform what we know), rather than with our ears (believing everything we hear). Even so, our eyes and ears are insufficient to see what God has parepared for those of us who love Him. Not even the hearts of those who love God, on which God has written His law, have fathomed the mysteries of the riches of Jesus.
A. In I Corinthians 2:9, the Apostle Paul called the mystery of the riches of Christ "Things which the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, and which have not come up in man's heart, things which God has prepared for those who love Him."
1. Such things are spiritually discerned, Paul tells us, but his choice of aspects of human living that cannot access such truth is important.
2. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God "has made everything beautiful in its own time; also He has put eternity in their heart, yet so that man does not find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." There is a time for everything: this we eventually recognize. But as this Scripture testifies, every individual recognizes that life is more than this. It's got to be! This is temporal, but there's something that has no end. There's something beyond me.
B. God has placed a recognition of that—a seed of eternity—in everyone's heart, but that seed of eternity, according to I Corinthians 2:9, is not sufficient to reveal the mystery of the riches of Christ.
II. Contemporary neuroscience tells us that the human heart (physiologically speaking, the pump in our chests) is amazing, yet it doesn't function by itself. As a mechanical pump, it of course needs fuel. Most people know that the heart burns oxygen for its fuel most of the time, when we take in enough oxygen through our breath to fuel it. Not many outside the medical professions, however, know that the heart also burns lactic acid, produced in our muscles when we're not taking in enough oxygen to fuel it. The heart functions in amazing harmony with other systems in our bodies—and it does so almost entirely outside of our conscious awareness or control. The heart is regulated by nerves from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, parts of the autonomic nervous system we're about to explore.
III. We inevitably feel and act from our hearts, but we are more than our hearts. Each of has to our identity a nexus, or core, of who we are—the aspect of us that survives the grave. The Bible refers to this aspect as "heart."
A. The Bible speaks of the heart as the core of each person's (1) identity, (2) desires, and (3) action. The heart is thus connected to the emotions, but it's not reducible to emotion.
B. The Bible refers to the heart as our seat of life. The Bible calls blood the source of life (Leviticus 17:11). The heart pumps and keeps people going.
1. Physiologically, without a pumping heart or mechanical substitute, we're dead. With a heart, we're alive and active.
2. Phenomenologically, without a metaphoric heart, we're not us.
Scripture & the Autonomic Nervous System
I. We have already mentioned how nous, or "spiritual sniffer," can apprehend the heart of God when vision or hearing cannot. Another aspect of who we are that is more foundational than what we hear or see is what the Bible calls the "kidneys."
A. In Psalm 73, the psalmist cries out against Jehovah: "I have been plagued all day long and chastened every morning (14). Surely I have purified my heart in vain, and I have washed my hands in innocence (13)." But he soon recognizes: "I was brutish and knew nothing; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand" (22–23). What a change of attitude! And the psalmist tells us what made the difference: "When my heart was embittered [against You, of God], I was pricked in the kidneys" (21).
B. Physically, kidneys are the part of each person that utilizes water for life and purification. In contemporary neuroscience, this (or, more accurately, these)—these are the processes regulated by our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which maintain life and purification as parts of the autonomic nervous system, which controls processes largely outside our conscious awareness.
C. Historically—for the first 6,000-or-so years of human existence, at least—humans have depended on innate balancing processes, which maintain life and purification, for their health and very survival. Only in the last 100 years have we developed technology to insulate us from the effects of not honoring what these processes communicate to us. Only in the last 20 to 30 years has the Western world embraced a pace of life that largely deadens us to them. Call them the kidneys, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, or whatever you will: we cannot be deadened to these processes without consequence. Moreover, considering the psalmist's (metaphoric) kidneys turned his heart toward God, the consequences of such deadening may be spiritually, as well as physically, severe.
II. Another aspect of who we are that is more foundational than what we hear or see, which "processes" our experiences and preserves our long-term well-being, is what the Bible calls the "bowels."
A. In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah exclaims on behalf of Israel: "See, O Jehovah, for I am in distress. My bowels are in ferment; my heart is overturned within me, for I have been very rebellious" (1:20). Quite literally: "Take notice, God! My heart is overturned—I'm the opposite of who I want to be. My bowels are in ferment—that part of me that holds the mix of what I've eaten, spiritually, so the good and True can be extracted while toxins and lies are passed out: it's impacted, backed up, in ferment, and I'm suffering. And in my suffering, I'm awakening to the reason: I have been very rebellious." Notice what awakened Israel to this spiritual truth: the bowels.
B. Physically, the bowels are the part of each person that holds what we've ingested, so the good therein can be extracted while the bad therein can be excreted. In contemporary neuroscience, this (or, more accurately, these)—these are the processes regulated by our enteric nervous system: part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls processes largely outside our conscious awareness. Through the enteric nervous system, the bowels relate to our heart, our kidneys, our thoughts, and our feelings. When we empathize with another we care for, they provide a visceral response: we quite literally feel another's pain.
C. In the last 50 to 60 years, the Western world has embraced mechanized farming, fast-cook meals, and fast food. We don't take time to savor meals, to chew our food, and to let our natural gastric juices go to work. Largely unwilling (or, we convince ourselves, unable) to change, we take laxatives or just endure the impacts of our lifestyle (pun intended). The health-conscious among us may supplement with probiotics and enzymes, but often, we're still deadened to the input of the bowels. We can, of course, ignore what our enteric nervous system communicates to us. But we cannot be deadened to these processes without consequence. Moreover, considering the (metaphoric) bowels awoke Israel to its errant ways, the consdquences of such deadening may be spiritually, as well as physically, severe.
The Natural Discipline of God
I. Together, the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous systems compose our autonomic nervous system, or ANS. The ANS ensures our survival by taking care of what we don't normally think about and by ensuring that we do think about anything it interprets as a threat. Informed directly by our sense of smell, it supports our physical and spiritual health.
II. Phenomenologically, informed by nous and enlivened by our animating breath, our bowels and kidneys help our hearts to understand the wonders of God. Perhaps it is no wonder that those whose bodies have rebelled against the societal push to keep going regardless of the consequences are calling our society back from the brink of destruction. Perhaps it is no wonder that those whose bodies have said "no," and whose minds have tuned into what the foundational senses are telling them are truly, today, calling us back from the brink of destruction.
A. Perhaps your child has been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum condition. Perhaps your child's body has said, "No; I will not be deadened."
B. Perhaps you or a loved one has been diagnosed with AD/HD, with an attention-span little more than the brief camera shots on T.V., before the producer cuts to another camera or the camera quickly pans to new action—or with the hyper-focus one can feel while playing video games, when the boring or problematic "real" world just fades away. Perhaps the body has said, "You have been training my attention mechanisms; now, I'm sure something new is right around the corner. I've got to see it. My safety, my health, even my survival may depend on it—regardless of what you're trying to teach me, or even what I consciously want to learn."
C. Perhaps you or a loved one has slowed your pace of living in response to the restricted movement and pain of spastic muscles and tightened fascia. Perhaps the body has said, "Enough. I will be heard."
D. Perhaps you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. Perhaps the body has said, "No. Since I no longer feel safe, my nous will no longer be deadened with perfumes, air freshners, or masking scents. I will feel at home. I will make myself safe."
E. Perhaps you or a loved one struggles with sleep. Thoughts race. The heart beats loudly in the chest. Perhaps the body is saying, "No. Slow down. Life is more than this."
III. Often, we can't make sense of our suffering. There may be nothing we've done… and nothing we can do. Regardless, in our fast-paced world today, we neo-docetics rarely listen to our bodies to see what they're telling us. We believe we know better.
A. Too often, our society punishes individuals with autism-spectrum conditions, rather than understanding what their behavior is telling us about their needs… and ours, if we'll slow down enough to hear what our own bodies are telling us.
B. As adults, we quaff coffee and give our children Ritalin®… so we can all think fast enough to overrule the still, small voice that beckons us to pay attention to what's basic. Or we take pain killers, run a treadmill of surgeries and physical therapy, or otherwise try to exert control over what we judge to be stupid, uncooperative muscles, ligaments, and bones. So often, we think we're in control, but we're not. Eventually, beating down the body catches up with anyone who tries it. We reap what we sow.
We Don't Beat Down the Body
I. Unfortunately, well-meaning Christian leaders sometimes counsel believers to take a path of ignoring what their bodies tell them, citing I Corinthians 9:26–27 to support their advice.
A. In I Corinthians 9:26–27, the apostle Paul writes, "I therefore run in this way: not as though without a clear aim. I box in this way: not as though beating the air. Rather, I punch where it counts—that part of the face under the eye, so I may lead my body where I direct it, having taken it as my slave, lest somehow having preached to others, I myself may become disapproved."
B. Paul is determined to do as Christ commanded His disciples: to do whatever it takes to follow Him (metaphorically, being willing to pluck out the right eye, if that eye would cause him to stumble; c.f., Matthew 5:29). He's determined to deal with the physical, so he can keep his focus singularly on Christ (Matthew 6:22).
C. Picture a prize fight. To the victor be the spoils. Whoever wins takes the loser captor: the loser becomes the winner's slave. That's the picture in I Corinthians 9:26–27.
1. Paul isn't going to beat down his physical body, making it useless for service. There's no punch to the kidneys. There's no punch to the gut.
2. Paul is going to deliver a coup de main, a swift attack of speed and surprise, accomplishing his aims in a single blow. He's going to take out his body's ability to see on its own, apart from his somatically informed spiritual eyes.
D. I Corinthians 9:26–27 isn't a justification to beat down one's physical body so one can live in one's mind; it's perfectly consistent with what Paul writes in Colossians 2.
II. There, Paul encourages: "Take care that no one carries you off as spoil through his gnosticism and vain deceit, according to the traditions of man, according to the elements of this world [the rudimentary, ritualistic observances or asceticism], and not according to Christ. In Him dwells all the fullness [all the expressions of the riches] of the Godhead bodily [as soma]. Therefore, let no one judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days. These were mere shadows of things to come, but the soma [the body, which casts shadows] is of Christ. Let no one who delights in self-chosen lowliness and the worship of angels defraud you by judging you unworthy of your prize. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind…. [His restrictions on your freedom] are all destined to perish when consumed [by God's purifying fire], founded as they are on human commands and teachings. Even though such commands and ordinances have an appearance of wisdom in [their systems of] self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body—a wisdom with no true value—in reality they result in attention to the flesh" (8–9, 16–18, 22–23).
III. Clearly, Paul prizes spiritual training over physical training (I Timothy 4:7–8), but he renounces abusing the body. Asceticism—treating the body harshly, denying our physical needs to focus on the spiritual—is a pagan attempt to reach the gods; it's not a Christian path of virtue.
God Is Faithful to More Than a "Part" of Us
I. In James 2:26, we read, "As the soma without the pneuma is dead, so faith without works is dead." In English, that's "as the body is without its animating breath, so faith is without deeds; actions enliven faith."
II. It's vital that what we say we believe isn't just words: it's important that our deeds—what we do and what we choose not to do—pour life into what we say we believe. In I Timothy 4 and again in II Timothy 2, Paul enjoins his pupil: choose to avoid vain babblings and endless genealogies. Choose to avoid contentions over words, which are useful for nothing. Flee foolish questionings and those arising from an untrained mind, knowing that they beget contentions.
III. Focusing single-mindedly on Christ is easier when we can deliver our own coup de main to vain speculations that deflect our love from Christ and those He loves. Toward that end, it may help to revisit points on which Scripture is clear:
A. The body (soma in Greek) matters to God.
B. We humans have different ways of functioning, but we always function as somas—as physical beings.
C. There is an aspect of the being of each person who has believed into Christ to which God is faithful beyond the grave. (This is the believer's identity.)
1. For those who die to their flesh this side of the grave in Christ, this aspect (called by different names in Scripture) lives forever: while the body dies/decays, and after the body is resurrected and reunited with it for time everlasting.
2. For those whose first death begins the decay of their body, this aspect (called by different names in Scripture) continues to exist disembodied and after the judgment, it dies forever.
3. Again, there is no single word in Scripture—not heart, soul, or even spirit—that refers to this everlasting aspect of our being.
D. With words like spirit, heart, conscience, body, soul, mind, will, kidneys, bowels, and liver, Scripture refers to different ways humans "be." These are phenomenological words (language structures that describe how things appear to be) that refer to overlapping ways of being (overlapping functions). Moreover, since these are not discrete entities with one function each, a human is neither two, nor three—nor four, five, or six—"parts." (To read more Scriptures about the heart, kidneys, and bowels, click here.)
IV. Words can, of course, have more than one meaning. Sometimes, their meanings are barely related: we don't hear that a friend is going to run for mayor, then buy her a jogging suit. Despite a few variants, however, the Biblical words for "soul" and "spirit" each have a fairly consistent meaning.
1. In general, Scripture uses the word "soul" (Hebrew: nephesh, Greek: psyche) to refer to animated creatures—to bodies who can breathe and move as they desire. Plants cannot breathe and move as they desire. Animals and humans can: we're animate. As such, we're fundamentally different from plants, even when we cease to breathe and move and our bodies are ready for the grave.
2. In general, Scripture uses the word "spirit" (Hebrew: ruwach, Greek: pneuma) to refer to animating breath—to that which can animate bodies to move as they desire or (as in the case of the Spirit of God) can move as it desires without the confines of a body. By extension, pneuma is also used to refer to the newness of life—the new animating breath—enjoyed by those who have believed into Christ.
3. Just as James 2:26 helps us differentiate between soma and pneuma, Christ's sacrificial death on the cross helps us differentiate between psyche and pneuma. When Christ died on the cross, he gave up his nephesh (Isaiah 53:12) and exclaimed unto God, "Into Thy hands I commit my ruwach (Psalm 31:5, rendered pneuma in Luke 23:46). Christ sacrificed His soul (His animated body, psyche, or consciousness) for us. Then He committed His animating breath (His spirit, or pneuma) unto God, trusting God to be faithful to the life within Him.
Partners with God
I. Using this understanding of pneuma, nous, and soma, we can read Romans 8:22–27 in a new light:
(22) For we know that the whole creation moans in the seen and suffers together in the pains of reproducing what is known-by-light-of-the-sun. (23) Not only others, but we ourselves have pushed away the pneuma (the spirit). We speak of our suffering silently, waiting for the deliverance of our somas (our body-minds). (24) We were saved in hope: but a hope that is seen is not a hope, for what person hopes for what he already sees? (25) But if we hope for what we don't see, we wait with earnest expectation. (26) In this way the Pneuma (Spirit of God) works with us against our feeble knowing God by-light-of-the-sun, but the Pneuma [also] erects a bridge beyond our capability, speaking of Itself silently, without preaching. (27) Since it knows each person's heart, it silently speaks to us as a pneuma-based (spiritual) awareness for making the saints like God.
II. Remember what God promised His people in II Samuel 7:14:
A. To correct His people toward righteousness with the rod of a Father—as a shepherd corrects, gently prodding his sheep with his staff (not hitting his sheep in anger), and
B. To use the trials of the human condition—man's inhumanity to man and other consequences of the fall of Adam—to sternly correct His people when they went astray.
III. Sometimes, "natural consequences" can be very severe.
A. Sometimes, we suffer the natural consequences of others' sin. A company might improperly dispose of toxins in a moment, and many in the community might suffer for a lifetime.
B. Sometimes, we suffer the natural consequences of beliefs, like "Christian" asceticism, which we've adopted because those around us have, too.
C. Individually, we suffer when we deny our need for God.
IV. Regardless of the cause of our suffering, those who have believed into Christ can receive comfort in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in everything, God works together for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."
A. God hasn't promised in Romans 8:28 to make everything good for us as part of His Divine blueprint. Rather, He has promised to be with us through everything and has assured us: this, too, is part of a reality He sovereignly oversees and invites us to partner with Him in making good.
1. The subject (actor, agent) of Romans 8:28 is God. God is explicitly the subject of verse 29, which parallels this one. He is thus implicitly the subject of this verse, and even explicitly in some ancient manuscripts.
2. Sunergei, the main verb of this sentence, means "work together, partner, or cooperate." It does not mean "compel others to work together, partner, or cooperate." It does not mean "to be compelled by another to work together, partner, or cooperate." Thus, "God partners with" or "God works together with" is a sound translation, and it is translated such in the NIV and RSV.
B. Thus, we can be confient: in everything, if we follow Christ, into whom we have believed, God works with us for good. Amen!
Partners with Others
I. Remember: Jesus was also our perfect representative. He crossed the divide between God and man, becoming a prototype (or "first-fruit") for what God is doing in those who believe. Now God can pour Himself into those who, trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus, call upon Him for salvation.
A. He can, in love and holiness, gift those who, having heard His Word shared faithfully by those who already believe, respond by believing into Him—He can give those believers with "what it takes" to live a meaningful life: a life that honors Him.
B. Moreover, through this revolving process, He can fashion Himself a suitable partner—a people who spread His self-replicating Word to others: strengthened by persecution, made holy by His discipline, constituted One with Him by rewewal of spirit, and built up as one nous, considering one another, so as to incite one another to good works in His name.
II. Though few organized churches today fully embrace the sufficiency of Scripture on a practical level, it's not impossible to find those that do. Many times, even in the absence of an organized assembly, it's possible to find a few others in a community who have truly believed into Jesus Christ.
III. Here is the mission of the church, in the words of Jesus: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18–20).
A. The mission of the universal church—and any local church—is first and foremost to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
B. The mission of a church is not "go into all the world and gather attendees," or even "go into all the world and gather converts." A church that is not focused on discipleship is a disobedient church.
IV. Disciples are students of the Teacher. Disciples are learners.
A. Pretending to already know kills learning. Self-denial means admitting that one's current opinions—those one adopted while growing up in the culture at large, perhaps especially the culture of North American Christianity-lite—may very well be wrong. Self-denial means being a disciple, open to being taught by one's Teacher.
B. Pretending to "have it all together" also kills learning. Self-denial means admitting one's flaws. It's not hypocritical to have flaws while striving to grow in godliness; it's hypocritical to act as if one has little more growing to do.
C. Avoiding the messiness of being human kills learning, too. Self-denial means working alongside others with flaws, learning together.
D. Finally, holding onto pride kills learning. Self-denial often means putting others' real needs above one's own wants, even glaring wants.
V. In response to a culture of pride, many churches have changed the fundamental message of Christianity. Their new message is how Jesus can make your life better. Their new message is popular, even if empty, because it appeals to pride. Here, however, was the message of Jesus: "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will surely lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25, c.f. Matthew 10:39).
VI. It's not only possible to find others who have believed into Jesus, it's necessary. The author of Hebrews says: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope unwavering, for He who has promised is faithful. And let us consider one another so as to incite one another to love and good works, not abandoning our own assembling together, as the custom with some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:23–25).
I. In the New Testament, God reiterates His promise of Proverbs 3:11 & 12 to use whatever means necessary to grow those who believe into Him in righteousness. Those who have believed into Christ accept this, even when (as it was for Job) trusting God in the midst of pain is exceedingly difficult, and even when we can't make sense of what's happening.
A. When we suffer, we're not necessarily being punished. For those who believe, natural consequences aren't Divine retribution for what we've done. But they do serve a purpose. They help us learn—usually much more than an intellectual "lesson." They change our knowledge, yes, but also our skills/motor patterns, habits, relationships, and faith.
B. In and through our sufferings, God conforms us to the image of God's Son. God partners with us in trials as part of His plan to replicate His nature in those who believe, to fashion a family of brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 8:29).
II. Discipleship is constant. We're always learning. Everything is training—but training certainly isn't everything. We learn from whatever we're experiencing—efficiently or not—but the purpose of life isn't just to learn.
III. Regrettably, in the process of learning through discipline, we sometimes recognize with great pain that it's too late to go back, yet we choose to do what we can.
A. We can't undo surgeries. We can't replace the times we developed poor habits or practiced inefficient motor patterns with more healthful (and often more fun) practice of habits we admire in others and motor patterns that will serve us well. We can't undo accidental anoxia during birth, or go back in time to prevent the shock of forceps on a fragile trigeminal nerve. We can't undo years of poor diet overnight, or go back in time to avoid the pesticides, polymers, solvents, and other toxins that have accumulated in our tissues.
B. But we can… we can, here, now, choose to wake up. We can notice what perceptual systems, somatic functions, and cognitive abilities are currently compromised; can isolate current, ongoing causes; and can proceed to strengthen those systems. We can make different choices. We can embark, with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, on a journey of Integral Learning™.
Principles of Integral Learning™
I. Susan may surrender her life to God. She may recognize that she doesn't measure up to His perfect standard of holiness. She may call out to Him to save her, trusting that the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross was sufficient to meet God's standards while securing her salvation. She may trust to learn, with everything that entails.
A. Those are sufficient steps to salvation—to everlasting life with God. They are important first steps toward solving Susan's day-to-day difficulties.
B. These steps ensure that Susan builds on a secure foundation, but they don't erect a building overnight.
C. Moreover, while God may miraculously undo damage that's already been done, He also may not. Just restoring Susan to Him is a wonderful miracle, indeed!
II. To address the problems she's facing, Susan may still need to
A. Stop poor habits, including seemingly unrelated ones that have been dulling her to God's spirit and discipline.
B. Start to develop other habits, including talking to God in prayer and listening to Him through the Bible—and, perhaps, also including semingly unrelated habits to restore her ability to more fully perceive.
C. See God's loving prodding amid symptoms that "something's wrong," and abandon an unthinking default to mask symptoms.
D. Reaffirm that the physical matters to God, and act accordingly. (This may mean changing her diet. It may mean dropping her yoga class or, at least, learning what every posture has been designed to achieve, then practicing with discernment, avoiding poses antithetical to her walk with Jesus. It may mean simply taking breaks to move and pray throughout her workday. Regardless, she affirms in thought, word, and deed: the physical matters to God.)
E. Commit to partner with God to bring about good for God, others, and herself.
F. Seek and find others to partner with, then show them consideration, so as to incite them to love and good works and foster an authentic, encouraging community (Hebrews 10:23–25).
III. Understanding this "big picture" of learning has been a first step toward learning with integrity. Our next step will be to understand how learning becomes so difficult and what we can do so learning becomes easier, quicker, and more accurate. As you meditate on these quotes before clicking ahead to the next page, you may want to consider: What do these have to do with Integral Learning™?