The Holy Spirit and the Word

In our world where emotions increasingly dominate, the written word of God has been diminished.  Many don’t like objective truth, for it is too restrictive and interferes with their desires.  Others don’t like the word in written form, for that requires study and reflection to glean its meaning.  The popular choice these days is for subjective feelings, for they come naturally and can be manipulated in order to rationalize our choices.

Here is a partial list of terms associated with God’s word in the NT:  living/powerful (Heb 4:12); salvation (Ac 13:26; 1 Cor 15:2; Jas 1:21); source of life (Mt 4:4, quoting Dt; Ph 2:16); source of fruit-bearing (Mt 13:23); authority (Lk 4:32); source of belief (Jn 4:41; Ac 15:7; Rom 10:17); everlasting life (Jn 5:24); eternal life (Jn 6:68); disciples indeed (Jn 8:31); never see death (Jn 8:51); standard of judgment (Jn 12:48); cleansing (Jn 15:3; Eph 5:26); truth (Jn 17:17; 2 Cor 6:7; Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; 2 Tim 2:15; Jas 1:18); source of belief (Jn 17:20); peace (Ac 10: 36); miracles bear witness (Ac 14:3); of the Lord (Ac 15:35-36; 16:32); of God (Ac 18:11; 1 Th 2:13; 1 Pet 1:23); grace (Ac 20:32); reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19); sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17); faithful (Tit 1:9); righteousness (Heb 5:13); exhortation (Heb 13:22); enduring (1 Pet 1:25); growth (1 Pet 2:2).

Here is a partial list of terms associated with the gospel:  of the kingdom (numerous); grace (Ac 20:24); of the Son (Rom 1:9); power to salvation (Rom 1:16); judgment (Rom 2:16; 1 Pet 4: 17); peace (Rom 10:15; Eph 6:15); of God (Rom 15:16); of Christ (Rom 15:19); establishment (Rom 16:25); spiritual begetting (1 Cor 4:15); veiled to perishing (2 Cor 4:3); perverted by some (Gal 1:7); exclusive (Gal 1:8); not according to man (Gal 1:11); truth (Gal 2:14); fellowship (Ph 1:5); defense (Ph 1:7, 17); the faith (Ph 1:27); hope (Col 1:23); called (2 Th 2:14); glory (1 Tim 1:11); suffering (2 Tim 1:8); life/ immortality (2 Tim 1:10); resurrection (2 Tim 2:8); chains (Phile 13); Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1 Pet 1:12); judgment (1 Pet 4:17).

I know that’s an overload of information, but simply consider what the Holy Spirit is actually doing through the revelation of God’s mind.  Long before the gospel age where revelation has reached its zenith, God was commanding, challenging, judging, creating belief, inspiring hope and holding men accountable to His spoken and written word.  That basic framework hasn’t changed, but the content of the Spirit’s message reveals deeper truths and principles than previously known. 

Consider an analogy:   Decades ago when aviation was still fairly novel, a pilot’s instruction manual would have included basic aeronautical physics and how to manipulate the airplane’s control surfaces.  Today, a fledgling pilot will learn some of the same principles of flight, but the biplane of yesteryear has been replaced by sophisticated jets.  Knowledge is paramount to safe, successful flying.  Positively, one must learn how his aircraft works, what the instruments mean, how to navigate from the air, how to talk to air traffic controllers, atmospheric conditions, etc.  Negatively, he must also be aware of inherent deadly tendencies, dangers of exceeding the airplane’s capability, how to avoid obstacles (mountains, communication towers, other airplanes, etc.). The pilot who strays from established procedures and follows his feelings will often do so - right into the ground.

No analogy is perfect, and this one can be pushed to a breaking point.  But there is a critical connection between a Christian and God’s spiritual flight manual.  God gives the information that is needed; He provides instructors to help us learn (preachers, teachers, fellow Christians, etc.); we grow in our abilities and techniques even as the student pilot gradually logs flight time and experience.  As the pilot has ground radar and air traffic control to help advise and guide him, so the Christian has both earthly and heavenly help in the form of prayer and providence.  God hears, cares and answers our petitions, but the objective information we have available to us is in the “manual” – Scripture – not in some feeling of exhilaration or leading impulse.

The Scripture.  Some may recoil from this notion because it smacks of salvation by works.  They think God gave us the Bible and then left us to fend for ourselves.  But while Scriptural instruction is vital, it is not true that God abandons us to our own devices.  God assures us of divine help, but He does not circumvent His own revelation to do for us directly what He has already empowered His word to do.

Even in the days of inspired knowledge, Jesus spent three years teaching, correcting and preparing the disciples for what lay ahead.  Crucial to the early preacher’s tool box was the Spirit’s previous revelation, the Old Testament.  Stephen gave an exposition of Jewish history and sacrificed his life in doing so.  Peter and Paul built arguments on OT history and prophecy (Ac 2, 13).  In Thessalonica Paul “as his custom was, reasoned … from the Scriptures” for three weeks (Ac 17:2).  Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures” and “had been instructed in the way of the Lord,” but he was missing some key points (Ac 18:24-25).  No one, not even Timothy, was counseled to set aside available revelation and let the Spirit guide via subjective feelings (cf. 2 Tim 2:15).

The seed.  In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the “word of the kingdom” only takes deep root in “good ground”; i.e., “he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit …” (Mt 13:23).  Paul also uses agricultural analogy to describe the believer who bears “the fruit of the Spirit”:  love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc. (Gal 5:22-23).  To “walk in the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 18) begins with adhering to the true gospel (1:6-9) and not being enslaved to the law of Moses.  James echoes, “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21).

The sword.  The author of Hebrews affirms, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (4:13).  He also says that Scripture reveals our true self like a sword lays bare the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (4:12).  In his Roman armor analogy Paul identifies this spiritual weapon as the “sword of the Spirit, which is the world of God” (Eph 6:17).  When Jesus was arrested Paul took out a literal sword and took a swing, but Jesus rebuked him:  “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).  The metallic sword kills, but the sword of the Spirit cures and convicts.  It is powerful because of its source:  the Holy Spirit who, through it, reveals the very mind of God.