If someone asked you: “What is the essence of your religion?”, what would you answer?
Keeping the 10 commandments and being a good person. Not a good answer.
Accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Good answer.
Being saved by grace through faith. Good answer.
Knowing the Gospel, living the Gospel and proclaiming the Gospel. Good answer.
My answer is found in seven words in English, in the first chapter of Rabbi Paul’s letter to the Colossians: Messiah in you, the hope of glory. How is Messiah in us? Through Messiah’s Spirit in us. The essence of our religion is having the Spirit of the Messiah in us, living in us fully, richly, abundantly. That assures that we will live forever as the glorious sons and daughters of God.
In the Word of God, this truth is expressed in various ways:
Remaining in Messiah
Waiting on God
Fixing our eyes on Yeshua
Being led by the Spirit
Walking in the Spirit
Being filled with the Spirit
Remaining in Messiah: Yeshua said: Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me … If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. It’s so beneficial, so blessed to be connected to Yeshua, united to the Son of God, joined to the risen Lord and Savior, abiding in Him, living in Him, remaining in Him. How do we that? By knowing that Yeshua is the Messiah, risen from the dead; the resurrected and ascended Lord who is seated at the right hand of God, powerful and victorious; and by receiving His Spirit; and then by remaining in His teaching and keeping His commands.
If that is us, we will produce the fruits of the Spirit. We will adopt Messiah’s priorities. We will focus on continuing His mission of world evangelism; proclaiming the Gospel; growing Messiah’s Community. Messiah will remain in us, and we will remain in Him. We want to remain in Messiah and we want Messiah to remain in us by His Spirit.
When we remain in Messiah, we are very close to Him, very aware of Him. Another way of expressing this is waiting on God: Isaiah 40 (NASB): Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
Waiting on God means being aware of God, being attentive to Him; and as we become aware of what the Lord wants, we do what He wants.
One of the greatest meals I’ve ever had was at a fine restaurant in Manhattan. Not only was the food amazing, but the service was fantastic. The wait staff were very attentive to their customers. Did you ever go to a restaurant and you have to wait and wait for your waiter to show up? Your waiter should be waiting on you, you shouldn’t be waiting for your waiter. In this excellent restaurant, as soon as you wanted something, one of the waiters, who were attentively watching, was immediately there to serve you. And a waiter was there even before you indicated you wanted something. During the meal, there was a dish that I didn’t like. I wasn’t eating it. One of the waiters was so attentive to me that he came over and asked me if I didn’t like that particular dish (I didn’t), and if he could take it away and bring me something else that I might like.
Just as a good waiter waits on his customers and is attentive to their desires, so we are to wait on the Lord, aware of Him, attentive to Him, trying to see what He is doing, hear what He is saying; trying to understand what He wants us to do – and when we see, hear or understand, then we immediately do what He wants us to do. That’s waiting on God. That’s the kind of relationship the Lord’s servants want to have with Him.
Similar to waiting on God is fixing our eyes on God: Psalm 25: Ay-nai ta-meed el Adonai. My eyes are continually toward the Lord – like the eyes of that waiter were toward me. And Psalm 123: I lift up my eyes to You, to You who sit enthroned in Heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God. These thoughts express the kind of relationship that the godly had with the Lord before Messiah arrived. Now that the Son of God has entered this world, lived a perfect life and died an atoning death to reconcile us to God; and conquered sin and death by rising from the dead; and has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and is ruling with Him right now over the universe; and sends His Spirit to those who transfer their loyalties to Him – we need to fix our eyes on Yeshua.
The author of the letter to the Messianic Jews put it this way: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Yeshua, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. When we are fixing our eyes on Yeshua, we are aware of Him; we are close to Him; and we act and think and respond to life’s challenges like Him; and His Spirit fills us and empowers us.
When we fix our eyes on Yeshua we are strong in faith and are able to overcome life’s challenges, like Peter did when he left the boat and walked on water. When he fixed his eyes on Yeshua, Peter was able to walk on the water. When he took his eyes off of Yeshua, he began to sink under the water.
How do we fix our eyes on Yeshua? We set our minds on Him. Colossians 3: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. We set our minds on Yeshua, who is above, throughout the day. We focus our thoughts on Him and His life and teachings, His miracles, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, the giving of His Spirit. We think about Yeshua, risen from the dead, seated at the right hand of God the Father, full of power and glory and grace and life and love for us. We talk to Him. We listen to Him. My sheep hear My voice. In every situation we face, we ask ourselves: What would Yeshua do in this situation?
Similar to remaining in Messiah, waiting on God and fixing our eyes on Yeshua is being led by the Spirit: Romans 8: Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. Being led by the Spirit means being sensitive to the Spirit, trying to understand what He wants us to do, which way He wants us to go, what He wants us to say, or not say; which person He wants us to reach out to.
Being led by the Holy Spirit also means to be led into spiritual living and holy living; to be led away from unspiritual, unholy living; to be led by the Spirit so that our lives are characterized by holiness and serving God, and not serving self and sin. Those who are led by the Spirit of God – into spiritual and holy living, avoiding sin kind of living, living to serve God kind of living, proclaiming the Gospel kind of living, continuing the ministry of Yeshua kind of living; being an active part of a God-honoring community kind of living – they are the true children of God. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
Similar to being led by the Spirit is walking by the Spirit: Galatians 5: Walk (walk means live) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Walking by the Spirit means we live in a way that we get close to God and stay close to God. The Spirit is living in us, enabling us to be aware of God and know what He wants, and giving us the power to do what He wants.
How do we walk by the Spirit? We humble ourselves. We come to the Three-In-One God on God’s terms. We understand that God is God and we are not. We end our part in the great rebellion against God. We make a commitment to Yeshua as Lord. We reorganize our priorities to line up with Yeshua’s priorities. We nurture our relationship with God by practicing the Spiritual Disciplines.
When we walk by the Spirit, the Spirit working though our new nature gives us the ability to not yield to the corrupt desires of the old nature. The way to overcome the things that tempt us; the way to overcome our areas of weakness, the way to have victory over temptation is not by committing ourselves to try harder and keeping a list of rules we need to follow. It’s by walking by the Spirit. This is an entirely different and superior way of living for God than following a list of dos and don’ts and law-keeping.
We walk by the Spirit by continual repentance. When we fail in our walk; when we realize that we have drifted away from God, that we are not close to God as we should be; when we realize we have sinned – we admit it as soon as possible. We confess our sins; and we thank God for the forgiveness that is available to us because of Messiah; and we ask for God’s grace to do better the next time we face that same area of temptation; and the God who forgives seventy times seven helps us get close to Him once again. He renews us and enables us to once again walk by the Spirit.
Similar to being led by the Spirit, and walking by the Spirit, is being filled with the Spirit: Being filled with the Spirit is like being filled with an emotion. We talk about being filled with anger. We are very angry and our actions are controlled by our anger; or we talk about being filled with love. We are greatly influenced by love and want to be close to and help those we love. So we are to be filled with the Spirit – controlled by the Spirit so that all of our actions are being directed by Him and reflect who He is.
We want the Spirit to live in us richly, abundantly, fully – like wine fills a glass; like water fills a sponge; like wind fills the sails of a ship, moving it forward. We need to create an environment within ourselves, in our hearts, souls and minds so that the Holy Spirit can pervade our innermost being.
There are things we can do to do that – to help us remain in Messiah; wait on God; fix our eyes on Yeshua; be led by the Spirit; walk in the Spirit; be filled with the Spirit. I’m talking about practicing the Spiritual Disciplines.
I want to highlight two in particular: first, continual interaction with the Word of God. Psalm 1: Blessed is the one whose delight is in the teaching of the Lord, and who meditates on his teaching day and night. Meditating on God’s teaching does not mean repeating Bible verses all day so that we can’t think about anything else. It means reading the Word of God on a daily basis; thinking about the Word of God, contemplating it, giving it serious consideration, trying to understand it, trying to apply it, trying to teach it to others. We need to train our minds to think about God’s Word every day and throughout the day. We are to talk about the Word of God when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.
The second thing we can do to help us remain in Messiah; wait on God; fix our eyes on Yeshua; be led by the Spirit; walk in the Spirit; be filled with the Spirit is pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5). We discipline our minds to talk to God throughout the day. We have a running conversation with Him throughout the day. We don’t just ask Him for things, we talk to Him about things that interest us or concern us.
We praise Him for who He is and what He has done, is doing and will do. We thank Him for His many benefits and blessings. We thank Him in everything.
The essence of our religion? My answer: Messiah in you, the hope of glory.
Heavenly Father, if we are not connected to Your Son, joined to Him, united to Him by His Spirit living in us, who is also Your Spirit, we can do nothing – nothing ultimately useful, nothing truly enduring. We can’t live successful and blessed lives.
So work in us that we are remaining in Messiah; waiting on You; fixing our eyes on Yeshua; being led by the Spirit; walking in the Spirit; being filled with the Spirit. Help us seek these things until we find these things.
Help us seek Your face and then constantly remain in Your presence. In Your presence Lord, that’s where we belong. Amen.