This is week one of a six week devotional study of the book Grace upon Grace by Dr. John Kleinig. It’s not too late to join us and this book is such a gem as it relates to the devotional life of the believer. We are reviewing the introduction of the book this week which is called Receptive Spirituality and then we’ll dive into the 5 chapters over the next five Wednesdays in Lent. I will post each Wednesday and then if you’re participating in the study (or even if you aren’t!), I’d love for us to have a discussion in the comments section over what we’ve read. Dr. Kleinig is an Old Testament scholar and retired in 2009 from full time teaching at Luther Seminary in Australia. I first heard him speak when I listened to this unbelievable two hour study on the book of Leviticus on Issues Etc. I think I’ve listened to it 5 or 6 times. You think Leviticus is dry and uninteresting? Not anymore. Give it a try and make sure you have time to really listen and concentrate. It’s chocked full of Christ-centered teaching and will open up the OT law and its’ fulfillment in Christ like nothing you’ve ever heard.
Let’s dive in to Week 1:: Receptive Spirituality
I’m gonna confess right off the bat that I have ALWAYS struggled with personal devotions/personal spirituality. It’s been a constant source of guilt and doubt for me. If I truly love God and am a christian then why do I often despise His Word and neglect to seek Him in prayer? Why do I live so much of my life from my own strength and fail to access the gifts of Christ given freely in His Word? Back in the day of my outright legalism, my failure to live a ‘successful’ private devotional life led me to despair. Then I would try harder and succeed for a while. Until I didn’t and then my friend despair was always so happy to step in On occasion, I’d go for months with a stellar devotional life, or so I thought, and I’d be right proud of myself. Look how ‘spiritual’ I’m becoming, I would whisper quietly as I patted my spiritual self on the back. But those two ditches (self-righteousness and self-pity) are not where true spirituality are found. As Dr. Kleinig so wonderfully points out, they are found in Christ alone.
He, like Luther, likens our posture to God as beggars. We realize that we bring nothing to this process of spiritual growth. We are the receivers of all good things, of grace upon grace.
“Spiritual life does not come to us haphazardly. The Holy Spirit—and the life the Holy Spirit brings—is available to us only in Christ. And He gives this life to us through His word and through faith in His Word. This means that our spirituality does not come from having spiritual powers or from our spiritual self-development but depends on our faith in Him. Because we are joined to Christ we continually receive life from Him.”
“Jesus does not offer us superhuman life; He does not turn us into supermen and women with extraordinary physical and mental powers. Instead, He swaps places with us. He joins us in our human life on earth so that we can join Him in His life with God the Father. By Jesus’ union with us, we share in His sonship. Jesus’ position with God the Father, His status and all His privilege as God’s only Son, His righteousness and His holiness, His access to the Father, His Father’s love and delight in Him, and the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, are all ours through faith in Jesus…… In short, we borrow everything from Him.”
Borrowing from Martin Luther and his study of the Psalms, he says you will find there 3 general rules for receptive spirituality: prayer (oratio), meditation (meditate) and temptation (tentative).
We pray for the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and the Holy Spirit enlightens us through the Word. ”So we pray for enlightenment, guidance and understanding that the Holy Spirit alone can give through the scriptures…..The Holy Spirit turns us would be spiritual self-promoters into humble, lifelong students of the scriptures. Prayer for God’s ongoing bestowal of the Holy Spirit through Jesus and the ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit is the foundation for Christian spirituality.
That concept seems so simple and yet it is so profound. We approach the scriptures with humility and as beggars and we plead and pray that God’s spirit would enliven us through this powerful, living Word. It will change the way we read the Bible. We don’t come with my superimposed ideas of what I think this passage says. We learn to come asking, seeking and begging for help, answers, strength, and faith. And our Father who loves us receives us graciously and gives us Himself.
God gives His spirit with the external Word. ”The Word of God is a means of grace by which God the Father grants the Holy Spirit through His dear Son. We receive the Holy Spirit through meditation on His Word. If there is no Word, there is no Spirit.” He describes a very specific meditation where we speak God’s words to ourselves and we listen attentively to them them with our whole heart. “We speak it to ourselves again and again; we read and reread it; we compare what it says one place with what it says elsewhere in the Bible; we chew at it in order to digest it; we rub at it, like an herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed; we take it in physically, mentally and emotionally, so that it reaches our hearts, our core, the very center of our being.” Kleinig borrows from Luther who is adamant that meditation is a mostly outward activity and that we ought to beware when we use the scriptures as merely a springboard for our own inward directed ascension into the heavenlies.
“Temptation is the touchstone that God uses to access our spirituality…. Temptation reveals what is otherwise hidden from us…..and tests the authenticity of our faith and proves our spiritual health.”
As long as we operate by our own power, with our own intellect and our own human notions, the devil lets us be. But as soon as we meditate on God’s spirit-filled Word and draw on the power of the Holy Spirit by meditating on it, the devil attacks us by stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, opposition, and persecution. He mounts that attack through enemies of the Gospel in the Church and in the world. The purpose of his attack is to destroy our faith and undo the hidden work of God’s word in us.”
This section on temptation hit me like a ton of bricks. The past few months, I’ve been much more diligent about making time to read and study. Instead of feeling more spiritual and knowledgeable, I’ve felt so inadequate. I’ve wondered if I really even have faith, at times. I don’t see any self-improvement, only a host of new sins and struggles. But that only serves to drive me back to prayer and to the scriptures. Hmmm, prayer, meditation, temptation. I think I finally see that the pattern. It’s not glamorous and it’s not some spiritual ladder to heaven. It’s daily dying and rising. Our lives are hidden in Christ and we shouldn’t look for some sort of measurable ‘growth’ or improvement.
“Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus.”
Okay, it’s your turn. What are your thoughts? Don’t you love how he focuses so heavily on Christ and what we receive from Him—and not so much on what we do or don’t do?