3.13.2009

we've got spirit, yes we do...


A couple of weeks ago some of us were discussing the subject of the Holy Spirit, and more specifically what it means to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16ff). There are a few notorious problems when it comes to this subject. First, we are given plenty of commands to do it, but we are not really given explanations of how to do it. Second, how does one discern between the Holy Spirit and the bad Thai food they ate last night? Finally, why do so few experience anything special? Here is how I understand at least part of these issues.

The closest thing I have found for a formula of how to walk by/live in the spirit is Galatians 3:1ff where Paul rebukes the Galatians and reminds them that they first received the Holy Spirit at their conversion by hearing with faith. That is, Paul came in the power of the Spirit preached the Gospel to them, they responded in faith, and they received the Holy Spirit. He then concludes the life toward maturity that follows should be of the same nature; that is, hearing with faith. This means—I think—that to walk by the Spirit is essentially to hear and to respond in faith. In Romans, we are told anything not done in faith is sin, but the righteous live by faith. When somebody does something by the power or full of the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit bringing power to that act of faith making it effective and fruitful. On the other hand, grieving the Holy Spirit is an act of rebellion to what is heard.

How do we hear the Holy Spirit? I think there are a number of ways he can speak to us including the Scriptures, preaching, teaching, the encouragement or rebuke of a fellow Christian (or non-Christian), our consciences, and even—I won’t rule out—a direct word. We are simply to put ourselves in a place to hear, to keep our eyes and ears open, and to respond in faith.

How do we discern between the Holy Spirit and our (or anyone else's) random thoughts? Ethically, does it affirm the virtues of the Spirit? So, Paul's lists in Galatians 5 works almost like a filter for what we hear. Is it for the common good (1Cor 12)? Theologically, does it affirm the true nature of Christ as Lord, come in the flesh, who died and was raised (1Cor 12; 1Jn 4)?

So how do we do it? First, we start with what we know. Rather than looking for God to overpower us with prophetic speech, or lead us to a desolate road in Gaza, or raise somebody from the dead; we listen to what he is saying in our daily circumstances: concerning our spouses, friends, enemies, work, speech, temptations, and so on. It goes something like this…When you are in an argument with your spouse, and you have two impulses (voices): (1) to say something cruel, and (2) to apologize and make peace. Choosing option two in faith is walking by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives the power to complete that decision and brings it to fruition (i.e., restores love, joy, peace...). Or, when you are at work, and you hear two voices: (1) telling you to lie, and (2) telling you to tell the truth. Again, to choose option two in faith is walking in the Spirit.

This does not preclude the possibility that God could do a work in spite of us or in explicitly miraculous ways, but that is usually his prerogative and not what we are commanded to do.

Push back welcome…

Painting is "Between Lands" by JEM

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