Becoming More Comfortable Discussing the Holy Spirit
In the Bible classes I’m teaching at Great Oaks this quarter, we are using Flavil Yeakley’s “Why They Left” as a topic-starter. It has already resulted in some great discussions, allowing us to critique ourselves as individual Christians and as a church on topics such as evangelism, our attitude toward the rest of the religious world, and our teaching of grace. Hopefully our self-critique – which can sometimes be affirming and can sometimes be painful – is being done in a fair and honest way, always letting the word of God have the loudest voice in telling us what we should be.
This week our topic has been the Holy Spirit. Our discussion has challenged us to not minimize the Holy Spirit in our faith and teaching. Some feel that churches of Christ have not given enough emphasis to the Holy Spirit, perhaps as an over-reaction to the excessive claims made regarding the Spirit by some parts of the religious world. I don’t have a wide enough perspective to know whether our churches have consistently neglected teaching about the Holy Spirit, but I know I don’t want to let someone else’s excessive ideas keep me from speaking biblically and truthfully about God’s Spirit.
I also know that when I mention the Holy Spirit’s work in sermons and classes, I almost feel the need to explain to everyone that I’m not claiming anything unbiblical regarding the Spirit’s work. I don’t want visitors or even members to assume that anytime I mention the Spirit’s work in the Christian, that I must be implying the Spirit works in us exactly like He did in the apostles. I also realize that there are different understandings of the Spirit’s work today even in churches of Christ (word only? Non-miraculous indwelling? Etc.), and I suppose I am sensitive to not sound like I am arrogantly assuming my understanding of the Spirit is without a doubt the correct one.
Since I have such a sensitivity to being heard incorrectly on the subject of the Spirit, I am encouraged by how freely and unapologetically Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit. A casual read through Paul’s letters shows that the Spirit was central to Paul’s understanding of the Christian life, not just in the apostles but in all Christians. For example, just scan through the Book of Ephesians, and notice the many references in this short 6-chapter letter:
· We are sealed in Christ by the Spirit, who is a down payment of eternal glory (Eph. 1:13-14).
· Both Jews and Gentiles have access in the Spirit to the Father through Christ (Eph. 2:18).
· Christians are being built into a house where God lives in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
· The gospel was revealed to the apostles and prophets through the Spirit (Eph. 3:5).
· We are strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner man (Eph. 3:16).
· Christian unity is called the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).
· One of the foundations of Christian unity is we all have “one Spirit” (Eph. 4:4).
· Christians must not “grieve the Spirit” by which we were sealed (Eph. 4:30).
· Christians must not be filled with sinful acts such as drunkenness, but we should be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:17-18), which apparently means to live God’s way.
· The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).
· We should pray at all times in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18).
Look at how often the Spirit is mentioned! Clearly, Paul considered this teaching foundational to the Christian life. If Paul came and preached at Great Oaks, chances are he’d say something about the Holy Spirit and its importance in our lives. And he probably wouldn’t even clarify all the things he didn’t mean by statements like “be filled with the Spirit.” I hope we’d be able to agree with him and embrace his words, without wondering what more he meant or didn’t mean!
If I understand the Holy Spirit correctly, He lives in the Christian spiritually (1 Cor. 6:19, Rom. 8:9), beginning in our baptism (Acts 2:38, Acts 5:32, 1 Cor. 12:13, John 3:5). His role is to give mankind the word of God (John 15:26-27, 16:8-13) and to work in Christians to help us live holy lives (Rom. 8:13, 1 Pet. 1:2). He works and speaks through the word of God, which He inspired to be written down (2 Tim. 3:16) and God’s word is His weapon, His sword (Eph. 6:17). In addition to His teaching through the word, He prays to God for us (Rom. 8:26) and strengthens Christians spiritually to help us live the way we know we should (Eph. 3:16, Rom. 8:13).
One of my goals as a Christian – and as a preacher – is to speak more often in those biblical terms about the Spirit, without fear of being misheard or misunderstood. Paul encouraged Christians to understand the foundational role the Spirit plays in God’s plan and in our lives. I want to do the same; so I’m going to try to do better. ;)