Look on the Other Side of the Coin

Kevin Park is a member of our church who designed and by now has distributed 150,000 grace and mercy coins. One side has a cross and the words “Mercy is when God spares you what you do deserve.” The other side has a dove and the words “Grace is when God gives you what you don’t deserve.” It’s a great evangelism tool.

The first side’s cross represents Christ. The other side’s dove is for the Holy Spirit. Mercy is the proper word for the forgiveness God gives us through Christ’s redemption. The Bible word is charis for the gift given, which we call grace. A second kind of grace is called charisma, the gift received. This is always associated with the Holy Spirit. One form is the special energy he gives to do specific ministries (1 Corinthians 12). The other is the higher gifts of love, faith and hope (12:31) and other fruit the Spirit produces in believers, like joy and patience.

The Reformation was all about mercy and assurance of eternal life.
For that purpose, we were taught to look toward what Christ accomplished on the cross. When Paul wrote about the church life of his congregations, he actually focused more on the other side of the coin, what the Holy Spirit was currently doing. He used the phrase “in Christ” 81 times. He explained “by the Spirit” 143 times. So, which is it?

A breakthrough discovery for me came from the work of Lewis Smedes, who described how for the same function Paul used Christ in one passage and the Spirit in a different one. Here are several of a total of 11 pairings, like we are righteous in Christ; we are righteous in the Holy Spirit. We have life through Christ; we have life through the Spirit. We have hope grounded in Christ; we have hope grounded in the power of the Spirit. He used both sides of the coin interchangeably.

A simple observation will clarify why we do better to focus now on the Spirit, the dove side of the coin. In the Apostle’s Creed, we confess that Jesus Christ “ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead.” So where is Christ now? We believe he is in heaven in a position of authority on the right hand of his Father.

Jesus himself taught his followers that his Father will send the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, to be with them and in them. This Advocate will “remind you of everything I (Jesus) have taught you.” Doctrinal language uses the title Holy Spirit. Mostly in Scriptures uses this Third Person of the Trinity is named simply “the Spirit.” I can defend identifying him as Christ’s Spirit.

Imagine the Spirit as the dove who flew down from above and sat on Jesus’ shoulder at his baptism. In my personal life, I envision him whispering into my ear, advocating godly thoughts and intentions and guiding me through the day.

Think of the Spirit’s work as changing human spirits, as Jesus taught Nicodemus. The Spirit is transforming us in supernatural ways that simple human counseling cannot. The Spirit generates the passion to share the Gospel with others and to learn new ways to do so more effectively.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the Spirit is a wind whose direction cannot be predicted. He brings winds of change into church life. The Reformation was such an unpredictable change. We are witnessing big changes now happening in the understanding and effective ministry practices of many Protestant churches in North America.

For traditional churches, will this unpredictable movement of the Spirit be welcomed or resisted? Leaders of institutionalized churches are prone to resist this part of the Spirit’s work. It drives them crazy. Pray that the Spirit opens their hearts and minds to try innovative ministries.

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