Having the Word and the Spirit
“Jesus said to His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.”
How did the early church turn the Greco-Roman world upside down? Certainly, a large part of their success lay in their message – that through Christ people could find freedom and salvation from all the things that held them in fear and bondage.
But it wasn’t just the early church’s message that made them so fruitful. It was both Word and Spirit. The early church was empowered by a vital experience of God – the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The Book of Acts communicates a simple message to Christians, that apart from the Holy Spirit, we Christians have nothing and are nothing and can do nothing. Our whole life is dependent on the Holy Spirit. Our coming to faith in Jesus is the product of the Holy Spirit. Our Christian growth is a result of the Holy Spirit, our unity in the church – created by the Holy Spirit. Our evangelism and mission is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of God’s Word is a result of the Holy Spirit. Our hearing from God, our healing, the restoration of marriages and families, our insight into the things of God, our servanthood, our Christian character: It’s all the result of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Listen, there is very clearly and very definitely something to believe in Christianity – we can never let go of that. But there’s also something more. There is Someone to receive, Someone to experience. Christianity has a certain truth content to it. But Christianity goes beyond creeds and beyond propositional content. It involves an encounter with the Holy Spirit – an experience of God through the Holy Spirit. This is partially what Jesus meant when He said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Much of the church today says not to worry about experiences and not to worry about feelings. Concern yourself with the truth and that is enough. On one hand there is truth in this. You don’t have to wait for a feeling to obey God. The Christian life is not just a life of waiting around for a feeling in order to do what is right or good or helpful. We act in faith based on the truth. We know what God’s Word says –we know what God’s will is and so we do God’s will regardless of our feelings.
But the Bible consistently presents the Holy Spirit as Someone who can be experienced – as Someone who imparts power. A few examples of this biblical witness:
The Apostle Peter wrote truths for us to believe but he also spoke of his experience. 1 Peter 1:8 he writes that as we encounter God we experience “joy unspeakable.”
The Apostle Paul, who wrote some of the most profound and dense theology, said in Romans 5, “God’s love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit?” Is that just doctrine or an experience?
Again, Paul, we read in Romans 8 that we have received the Holy Spirit and by Him we cry out, “‘Abba, Father,’ the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirits that we are children of God” is that heart cry, “Abba Father,” just right belief or it is the result of a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit?
God brought the prophet Ezekiel to a desert valley that was covered with the bones of dead men. While Ezekiel watched, the Spirit of God breathed upon those dried out bones and flesh grew on them and dead men came back to life. Some of us are like those dead bones in the valley. You’re not physically dead. You may be as physically fit as one could be. You may be intellectually fit. Your mind could be incredibly quick and your wit as sharp. But even if you are physically alive and intellectually alive, spiritually you can still be dead – dead to God. Dead, in terms of your awareness of God. Dead, in terms of your experience of God before the power of the Spirit makes you alive to the reality of God.
Jesus said to His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” The power of the Spirit is at work in us to make us look like Jesus. And living like Jesus is a fantastic way to live. Jesus was free. Jesus was secure. His identity was not based on the opinions of those around him. He did not feel the need to prove Himself. He did not measure His success in life by what He possessed or what He accomplished. He did not measure the fruitfulness of His ministry or the faithfulness of His Father by the response of His audience. He was at peace with Himself. Jesus was authentic. He was the real deal.
Being like Jesus means that you are aiming at loving other people and not being self-consumed with introspection or self-pitying, being self-absorbed. Being like Jesus means you’re able to love people who are different than you. People who are different in color, different in background, different education, different ages. Being like Jesus means that you speak well of others instead of always complaining, bad-mouthing, gossiping.
Wouldn’t it be nice to live life like Jesus? Secure, content, thankful, truthful, loving, free? How does it happen? How does holiness happen?
It happens by the Word and the Holy Spirit working together in our lives.
One last thought on this matter. When I was in seminary I had a theology professor who used this ditty to make this point:
To have the Word without the Spirit is to dry up.
To have the Spirit without the Word is to blow up.
To have the Word and the Spirit is to grow up.
May we all grow in the fullness of life that the Lord means for us to know.
Yours in Christ,