Word & Spirit

Two of the most pleasant and important subjects in Christianity are ‘Gods Word’ and ‘Gods Spirit’. As for Gods Word, I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God to man[1], leading to redemption in Christ alone[2], giving authoritative training for real Christlike living[3], and bringing total comfort[4]. The Bible offers living power for every believer who listens to it (God’s voice) and responds[5]. The Bible is the perfection of Gods word to which every doctrine of man must be measured against[6]. I believe this about the Bible, because Jesus believed it[7]. As for Gods Spirit, I believe that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgement[8], leading to repentance[9] and rebirth[10]. He saves because of kindness, love and mercy[11]. He dwells in every believer[12], seals adoption[13], and guarantees inheritance[14], until the day of redemption[15]. He causes Christlike living[16], revealing truth[17]. He baptizes believers into the body of Christ[18], gives spiritual gifts[19], and empowers us for mission[20].

Surprisingly then, the Word and Spirit have sometimes been separated as if they are somehow threatening to one another. Yet, when you consider the mystery of God triune, we see that sometimes in God things that are not the same cannot be separated. A good example of this can be seen in the mystery of marriage. Two people who are not the same, different in every way, are united under God to form a new thing, which cannot be separated[21]. So we can see a similar unity between Gods word and Spirit. When commenting on Galatians 3:2 Tim Keller notes: “…we are given new birth through the Spirit of God (John 3:5), yet James (James 1:18) and Peter (1 Peter 1:23) can say we are given new birth through the word of God. They are indivisibly linked.”[22]. In Christianity therefore, it is not unusual to have two separate entities, which cannot be separated. (note)[23]

The separation is not easily seen in our theology (Except maybe for those who would call themselves sensationists). Rather, it becomes evident in our functional ecclesiology. Negating word or Spirit is not usually what we do intentionally, sometimes its just emphasizing one causing the other to be marginalized. For example, I know a man who only allows someone to preach in his church if he is a good New Testament Greek scholar (He doesn’t hold the same line for the Old Testament but is unwavering on the Greek text.) On an experiential level, I’m not sure how we are to ignore the fact that most of the growth in Gods kingdom is happening in places and through preachers who don’t have theological degrees and most certainly don’t speak Biblical Greek or perform what we deem to be proper exegesis. From Australia we are sending an abundant supply of resources into Africa to train theologically intelligent teachers, who before we ever arrive are seeing more people saved and serving Jesus than our churches will ever see (but for Gods sending revival). Yet, we feel strongly that they need to know words like ‘justification’, ‘propitiation’, ‘atonement’, etc. We perfect doctrines, while they see sinners saved.

We can also think that the ultimate purpose of a meeting is when the sermon gets to Jesus. For example we may be preaching on Noahs ark, and when we get to show how the cross is the greater arc by which God has saved mankind from sin and wrath, we sense we’ve nailed it. When we preach on David and Goliath we may say that Jesus is the man of faith who slayed the giant of sin and won a victory for all His people. What this lacks is not truth, but purpose.

At the same time there are those who feel that the meeting was superior if they never made it to the sermon because the worship caught fire and the gifts of the Spirit started flowing. It’s hard to see how we can ignore the ‘teach them’ of Matthew 28:20, the ‘devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching’ of Acts 2:42, the ‘God is a God of order’ of 1 Corinthians 14:33, or “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NLT).” Jesus said: “On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Matthew 7:22-23 NLT)” We can’t find much security in meetings just because we experienced the gifts of the Spirit. We must be taught how to walk with the Spirit by teaching the Word of God (Galatians 5:17). Sometimes the greatest outpourings of the Spirit or infilling of the Spirit happens under the preaching of the Gospel. Luke says: “Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. (Acts 10:44). “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. (Acts 11:15)” Read R.A. Torrey for serious inspiration[24].

God won’t allow us the comfort of being clinical about our ideas or preferences. I went to Hope University in California to study theology. During one class a professor shared that he was going to have heart surgery. Two students asked if they could pray for him. He accommodated their request. To his surprise and everyone in the class, they got up, placed their hands on him and simply asked God to heal him. Besides for the two gentlemen praying, I don’t think another eye closed. It was as if some ancient tribal ritual was being performed before our eyes and everyone wanted to watch. A week or so later I missed convocation due to a soccer match, but when I returned to the campus, excitement was pulsing through the student body. It didn’t take long before someone shared with me what happened. Apparently during the convocation, this professor said something like though he did not believe in the gifts of the Spirit, his doctor says he has been completely healed and has cancelled the surgery. He continued that this miracle came about through the prayers of two students.

But why would anyone feel nervous about testifying to the work of the Spirit? I was in another class with another professor, sitting quietly in the back row. I forget the context (as I was about to leave for a soccer game) but he said that the gifts of the Spirit are no longer at work in our day. A few of the students who went to the same church as I did spun around and stared at me as if I should speak up for them. Without much tact my hand was raised and before I knew it I was in a theological back and forth with my professor. The verbal tennis centred 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. While I regret how I went about it, I will never forget the moment his face turned plum purple and he said: “Ok, the gifts of the Spirit do exist, but it’s because of Christians like you that we can’t teach them.” Years later, I realized that he had assumed that I was of the belief that speaking in tongues was a necessary sign to prove you were a Christian (Something I have never believed). Why would people feel nervous around the work of the Spirit? One reason is that they have been abused, and people have been hurt through poor teaching about the gifts.

The Word and Spirit are to be interconnected not disconnected. They are to aid one another. The Word must explain the gifts and the Spirit must empower the Word. Sometimes the Word of God creates a path for the Holy Spirit of God. Michael Eaton was preaching through Galatians at our church. There were two singles sitting in the meeting who were living together as a married couple and wanted to serve God at the same time. Eaton preaches for a long time, and I didn’t think they were getting much out of it. But when Michael was finished preaching on justification, this man said that he was convicted that he must serve Jesus and be an example to this woman by proposing to marry her. He moved out, she became a Christian they got married, pregnant on honeymoon, baptised on return, and now they serve as ministry leaders. The radical shift in their morality was sparked by a sermon on justification by faith alone giving us assurance of salvation! The word empowered by the Spirit motivated this man to more than fulfil the law of God. That’s a miracle.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit of God creates a path for the Word of God. A young lady from YWAM shared about how they took a team to India bearing glasses and other equipment to help people with their eyesight. Before they tested anyone they would ask to pray with people. Out of the 800 people they tested, 200 received a healing from God through prayer. After being supernaturally healed they were able to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to these dear people. Many of the other 600 people had their eyesight improved through medical means and they too received the message of Jesus Christ. When a blind person experiences the work of the Holy Spirit, they are quite open to hearing the Word of God leading to salvation and Christlike living. We see this pattern of ministry quite often in the New Testament.

If we are to be ministers of God, we must certainly “do our best to present ourselves to God as ones approved, workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 I have changed the singular to plural).” We must “refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)” We must sit under the Holy Spirit’s tutelage provided by Jesus (John 14:26), and eagerly desire all the gifts that the Spirit enables for the building up of the church (1 Corinthians 14:12). Even the unbeliever can teach the Bible, but we must seek much more – to preach the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God for the transformation of lives for the glory of God.

If we find that we have fallen into over emphasizing the Word by undervaluing the role of the Holy Spirit and maybe even becoming sceptical and self-reliant, let us remember that it is the Holy Spirit that reveals to us the deep and wonderful things of God. Paul says: “That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:9-13).” Our churches are not built upon the eloquence of our preaching, but on the demonstration of the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

If we find that we have fallen into over emphasizing the experiences of the Holy Spirit and undervaluing the place of the Word of God in our lives and our churches, let us remember that, “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12).” We must not forget what Paul spoke to all Christians. In telling us to put on the armour of God He said, “…take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).” The Spirit uses the word of God to work in the church and to glorify Jesus.

The Word of God and the Spirit of God are two different matters, but they should not be separated.

[1] Prov. 30:5, Psalm 119:160, Matt 4:4; 5:18, John 17:17

[2] 1 Peter 1:23, John 14:6, Gal 1:6-10, 2 Tim 3:15

[3] Psalm 119: 105, Matt 4:4, 1Cor. 11:2, 1 Tim 3:14-17, 2 Tim 3:16-17

[4] John 8:51; 14:23, 1 John 2:5

[5] 1 Tim 4:16, 2Tim 3:15-16 (neg. Matt 22:29)

[6] Luke 1:2, Acts 17:11, 1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:13-15, Titus 1:9 (neg. 2 Thess. 3:16)

[7] Matt 19:4-5

[8] John 16:8

[9] Acts 11:15-18

[10] John 3:6-8, Titus 3:5

[11] Titus 3:4-5

[12] John 14:17, Rom 8:9; 11, 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19

[13] Rom 8:16, 2 Cor. 1:22, Eph 1:13-14, 1 John 4:13

[14] Eph 1:14

[15] Eph 4:30

[16] Gal 5:16-25, Eph 1:4, 1 Thess 4:7-8, Titus 2:14

[17] Isaiah 11:2, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13

[18] 1 Cor 12:12-14, Eph 4:4

[19] 1 Cor 12:1-11, Heb 2:4

[20] Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8

[21] Mark 10:8-10

[22] Galatians For You; Published by the Good Book Company

[23] Theologian, Michael Eaton, says that every Christian doctrine must end in mystery because the finite (man) cannot fully comprehend the infinite (God). We see this with God in creation, as we try our hand at reverse engineering creation to come to distinct job descriptions within God the triune, only to find that He won’t fit neatly into parts. God just won’t squeeze Himself into the paradigms that we can understand. Just like belief requires faith, doctrine ends in mystery.

[24] I noticed that the book is on Amazon for free download: http://www.amazon.com.au/Person-Work-Holy-Spirit-ebook/dp/B004TREEAW/ref=sr_1_22?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1433249278&sr=1-22&keywords=r+a+torrey

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