No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written ain the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus make various statements who has life and where does life come from. In the three passages quoted from above, we see eternal life is associated with (1) being taught by the Father that leads one to come to Jesus and believe, (2) hearing Jesus’ word, along with believing God sent Him, and (3) the Spirit gives life. The eternal life that the Gospel of Jesus describes is intimately connected with the relationship of the person to three persons of the Trinity.
IF we follow all of what Jesus says, it all starts with being taught by the Father. in John 6.44-47, Jesus emphasizes the holiness of the Father, and no one has seen Him except Jesus. Even as people are taught by the Father, presumably by people searching the Scriptures to know God, they don’t truly know what He is like, because God is “holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6.3). Once one is taught by the Father through the Scriptures, one can recognize and come to Jesus because the Scripture that one has learned from testify to Him (John 5.39). This leads people to come to believe in Jesus and hear His words. Yet, IT is not His words alone that give life, but as expressed in John 6.63, Jesus’ words are Spirit and life. Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of the Spirit as waters welling up in oneself.
What we see taking place here is a progressive movement in coming to know God and receive the gift of life from outside ourselves to it coming within ourselves. Our relation to God starts from the the Father, whom we do not see and know directly. The holiness of God means that we don’t see Him as He is. However, Jesus as the Word made flesh gives us a look at the Father through Jesus’ words and actions. However, at the same time, Jesus words are not something that are immediately understood and known as the habitual response of His disciples make known, and so understanding Jesus’ words requires the Spirit to provide the life that Jesus’ words speak to. This three-fold movement from the Father, to the Son, to the Spirit is the progressive movement of the life of new creation coming within us.
However, there is something important to understand. We come to know God outside of ourselves before we come to know the Spirit who is inside ourselves. We must always look to God as He is working and speaking outside ourselves to understand the work that God is doing inside ourselves. Principally, we must let Jesus’ words be a guide to the work of the Spirit within us. Our inner experience alone won’t lead us into the God’s will and life, as the inner life for the Christian is being faced by the thinking and desires of the flesh and the thinking and desires of the Spirit (Rom. 8.5-6; Gal. 5.16-17). How can we discern within our inner life what is the Spirit leading and what is the flesh’s leading. Many of the same actions that can be done can be motivated by the desires of the flesh or the desires of the Spirit. When Jesus warns about public piety in Matthew 6, prayer, charity, and fasting can be both motivated by fleshy desires and by the desires of the Spirit. So, we need a outside voice to help us differentiate the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh within ourselves. Jesus’ words of life gives us the outside source by which we can discern the Spirit at life working inside of us. Since the Spirit and the Lord are one (2 Corinthians 3.17-18), what we see in the Lord is what the Spirit is doing and what we find the Spirit is doing is transforming us into glory that we see in the face of Jesus Christ.
However, to receive Jesus’ words as the words that help us discern the Spirit in our life, we must understand Jesus’ words to be words from the holy God, which means we do not naturally comprehend or understand them unless the Spirit who is in us helps us to comprehend them. If we presume to know exactly what Jesus words mean, we lock ourselves into whatever mindset we are in. If it is the Spirit leading us, that is one thing, but if it is the flesh leading us, then we are locked into reading Jesus’ words for a fleshy perspective. But if we believe the Father sent Jesus and we hear and continue in Jesus’ words, then we give our minds the space to allow the Spirit to bring forth meaning that corresponds to what we hear and see from Jesus. So, in humility, we need to receive Jesus’ words as a perpetual word from a holy God who we do not naturally understand and allow the Spirit to continue to bring forth the meaning of Jesus’ words to us and, in so doing, help us to recognize and identify the work of the Spirit in our lives.
As we do this, we begin to be able to discern the work of God in other people’s lives also. Not that we ever see directly what is within them, as we are not Jesus and can only see works and actions, but we can discern words and action consistent with the will of God coming through other people who believe in Jesus and are lead by the Spirit. As we know the Triune God, we come to recognize others lead by the Triune God who speak and act in accordance to Jesus and the Spirit. So, we trust that the Spirit is working in them as we continually focus our attention to Jesus whose words and actions happened outside of us, allowing us to trust the inner work God is doing in them is in accordance to the Jesus we mutually believe in and listen to.
To live out this matter of Spiritual formation, however, we have to break the chains of cognitive internalism that the modern world has bequeathed to us. The truth of God comes from outside of ourselves by God’s own teaching and self-expression before we recognize and know the truth within ourselves. This is how the Christian life proceeds from the Triune God, the Father teaches us leading us to Jesus, whose words of life bring forth the Spirit of life welling up within ourselves. It starts with God as we do not see Him, then moves to God who is outside of us but whose words and actions we can hear and understand, then moves towards the Spirit gushing up within us.
The modern world wants to progress from the inside-out, but the progression towards understanding, knowing, and doing God’s will is outside-in. It is the difference between “Be the change you want to see in the world” and “Discover and believe what God is doing in the world and it will become part of you.”