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The Letter & the Spirit

• Greg Boyd

As we continue our Listen Up series, this week Greg discusses how being open to hearing from God through our imagination affects the quality of our faith. Faith is about getting on the inside and working out our questions once we’re in relationship. If we are expectant that our relationship with God is a two-way street and that he not only wants to hear from us, but also wants to speak with us, and we’re open to our imagination being the place that conversation happens, then we’re much more likely to be led by the Spirit in our Kingdom walk.

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We know we’re supposed to bring our petitions, but what some of us miss is the two-way communication aspect of prayer. In a real relationship there is communication in both directions. God desires not only to hear from us, but also to speak to us. His essence is a relationship. He is by nature 3 in 1. When God created the world it was created for relationship, and he has desired to have this relationship with everyone since the beginning. We have read time and time again in scripture that he wants all to find him, and none should perish. His desire is to hear and be heard.

The place where this communication usually happens is in our imagination. This is not just a place for creative thinking, but a portal to the spiritual realm. In the Christian tradition this practice or discipline has been known as cataphatic prayer or praying with images. This is where God takes the abstract and makes it tangible and transformative. The imagination is our interior chapel, our inner sanctum. The job of the Holy Spirit is to usher us in to this place and mediate the communication with God. This is where we see with the heart or mind’s eye.

Many of us get stuck and have brain freeze thinking about this concept because we doubt what we hear and feel, like we can’t trust our imagination. We’ve been trained from a young age to see the imagination as make-believe and untrustworthy. But that is not how the biblical authors saw things. Paul relies heavily on the language about seeing in the heart. He also says he’s thankful he didn’t have wisdom or charisma because that would have robbed God of his power. He is strong when we are weak. Our foolishness bring forth his wisdom. We may see our subjective imagination as weak, but this is the space God speaks powerful truth.

In 2 Corinthians 3 we learn that the letter brings death, but the Spirit brings life. The letter brings death because it can tell you what is wrong, but can’t empower you to do what is right. It can only explain, so it just exposes more sin. The spirit is what empowers transformation. The old covenant was a covenant of death. A good analogy is that the old covenant was like a candle in a dark forest. If everything else was dark, it does bring light. But when the true sun/son comes forth, you can’t even see the candle anymore. Like Peter with the unclean animals: Letting go of lesser glory to grab better glory is difficult. There is nothing that keeps a better glory from moving forward than holding on to a lesser glory. Our human nature likes the letter, the definitive explanation. The new glory is messier. With the letter we can control people. Many Christians throughout history and still today have turned the Bible in to a weapon. This is part of why letter kills. The world doesn’t need any more of this. What it needs is some Jesus servants.

As we behold the beauty, we become that beauty. This is why our picture of God is all-important. Our relationship with God is mediated through our imagination. The passion and beauty of our life will never outrun our picture of God. The Kingdom can be summed up as us enjoying God enjoying us enjoying God. There is biblical theme that like is known by like. Someday we will be like him because we will see him face to face. So the more we are like him now, the greater our capacity to experience his love becomes, and the cycle continues.

All of this takes place in the inner sanctum, our imagination. When we read the bible by the letter, we turn it in to a weapon and judge the people we’re supposed to be loving. Additionally, getting caught in all the questions of the letter will cause us to miss out on the kingdom life. Faith is about getting on the inside and acting as if something is true, even when you’re not completely sure. Once I know my reasons for believing, the question is, “will I live as if it is true?” Will I listen to that voice in my imagination? We don’t base our faith on our imaginations, but now that we have faith it is okay to trust one’s imagination as a place God desires to speak to us. If you live as if God speaks to you, then you’ll start to notice things that you didn’t hear before. God doesn’t make it obvious because that turns it in to the letter, and we form a holy club, but the more you listen to the hunches, the more you’ll notice there are kingdom coincidences all around! We who have been strongly influenced by the scientific revolution want hard facts we can test, and this imagination stuff feels like make-believe. We have to push back against this inclination and be willing to trust our imagination and trust that God’s desire is to speak to us.

Faith is getting on the inside. There is a world of difference between looking at something and looking along something from the inside. This is the leap of faith. It’s not irrational, but it takes a commitment. If it’s loving and kind, and we feel prompted, then we’ll grow by trusting that God is speaking to us and commit to listening to the Spirit.

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Topics: Faith, Imagination, Prayer, Transformation

Sermon Series: Listen Up


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Focus Scripture:

  • 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

    Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:7-11

    So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

    Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

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