During a recent Sunday school class reflecting on the chapter “Listening to God” from Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, we discussed the different problems of listening to God only in his word and not through the Holy Spirit and to the Holy Spirit while not using God’s word. One of the ways we portrayed this difference was as personal, impactful, and emotional. Using the word of God alone was characterized as being dry, legalistic and fruitless without the Holy Spirit and listening to the Holy Spirit only and not God’s word would leave you wafting on the wind of emotion and whim. While these are accurate as far they go, we see this picture morphed into one where the Christian life is characterized as on-fire versus dull or dead, emotional versus emotionless depending on whether the Holy Spirit is involved or not. This seems to miss the main point. While this brief post certainly won’t dive deeply into the theology of the work and person of the Holy Spirit, he is clearly portrayed as an enabler, providing power. He is sometimes referenced as the Comforter and other times as a Helper. It’s not a dichotomy of head versus heart but rather we are capable or not. In other words, without the Holy Spirit, God’s word holds no power for us. Not only are we unable to fully understand it, it does not transform our lives. Equally, God’s Spirit works through His word, not in a vacuum, to accomplish His work.The scriptures are inspired, or “God breathed” after all.
When the Sadducees attempted to trick Jesus into a conundrum about the resurrection, his response to them was: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 ESV). It’s not as if the Sadducees and Pharisees had never looked at God’s word, but they did not know its power. They did not know it because it was not open to them. I believe that we come into this world wholly depraved; that doesn’t mean we’re as wicked as we possibly could be, but it does mean every aspect of our lives is tainted by sin, including our thought life. We are dead and only God’s enlivening power may give us life and enable us to follow Him. So reading God’s word without that enabling power easily degrades into a list of do’s and don’ts. It has no transforming power in itself. On the flipside, the Spirit without the purpose of God’s word can use us as a vessel but doesn’t change us. We see an example of this in Saul as he was chasing David:
Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:22-24 ESV)
Saul prophesied with no change in himself. He was a mere conduit and soon thereafter the Holy Spirit no longer used that conduit. Saul did not obey God’s word and the Spirit left him (as did his kingdom).
If we think back to that early manifestation in Acts 2 of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples, we see an interesting “before and after” picture. Was the difference between not having emotion and then having emotion? Prior to their receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples were holed up and hiding in fear from the Jewish leadership and the Roman authorities.They had lots of fearful emotion.On receiving the Holy Spirit, they went out under the leadership of Peter and spoke to a large crowd of which three thousand surrendered their lives to Christ. They spoke with boldness and confidence with people questioning whether these could be simple fishermen. They also had emotion and spark.
So these are not examples of “being on- fire” or emotional with the Holy Spirit and dull without it. There is plenty of life and emotion in Saul, one of greed for power and anger at and fear of David, prior to the Holy Spirit coming upon him. For the disciples, there was fear in the face of imminent threat before they received the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is a portrayal of the Holy Spirit’s work as empowered emotion followers moved to be in line with God’s call to us.
Just prior to the reading of God’s word we often pray to have his word illuminated for us, that He would open our eyes and ears to fully understand His word. That’s not simply a tradition or a rote habit but rather a request for the Holy Spirit’s power in help to understand His word. We see the same notion as Paul prays for power in the inner man to be strengthened to know God’s love:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) [emphasis mine]
So, both God’s word without the Holy Spirit and seeking the Holy Spirit without the discipline of God’s word are both essentially powerless. It is only when the two are married that the true enabling power of God transforms us so that we may understand and respond to His word. We need God’s power (as the previous series God’s Grace to Us for his Glory discussed, especially in the posts Refining His Call and His Presence). We need his power even to be given the strength to understand the extent of His love.
Yes, there are mysteries surrounding the work and person of the Holy Spirit. On this side of the grave, we will not fully understand Him and will have an eternity to begin to know and love Him. However, the Bible is clear that He is a Helper and a Comforter. He doesn’t jack us up and get us pumped so that we can have victorious and lively worship of Christ. For the Hebrews, this whole idea of separating out emotion and mind, this Platonic breakdown between physical and mental. did not exist. It is the whole person Jesus redeemed. Upon our death, if prior to His coming again, we will immediately go to heaven in spirit but, at the culmination of time when he does come again, our bodies will be resurrected and our whole person, with our emotions, intellect, body, and soul, will serve Him. That is the power of the Spirit.