Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How are we led by the Spirit? And how does that intersect with the Word?

There is a confusing position among some, that there is either obeying 'only God's word.' Those who don't are in effect 'running around with a divining rod' by listening to interior whispers, engaging in mystical practices, and elevating personal experience as equal to the word.

I agree that the holy word is the only benchmark by which we determine truth, walk in the world, and follow Christ. It is the sole inspiration for all we are and all we do.

Before I go on, I want to mention that I am fully aware that this kind of blog entry, an interior musing ripped open to the world, peppering myself with questions and meanderings, also exposes me to misunderstanding. So be it.

I'm puzzled by how far to take the strict stance of "only God's word." Stay with me.

Are we not convicted? Are we not led? Are we not burdened for people? I have pondered for a long time, the way that the Holy Spirit helps us. We know He indwells, and He is inside us. He is part of our biology. He transforms our mind and the mind is where the battle is. Many scriptures present these things as fact. So how does the Spirit transform us from craven, evil-thinking people into wholesome people with holy desires? Where does He begin and I leave off?

I am thinking of the how. I am strict on being in submission to the word, but then again, the word becomes absorbed in us and since it is living and active, we do have an inward experience. How does it all work?

In an example, there was a woman at church at Christmas, she was giving out five little bags of homemade jam to her friends and then she came over and gave me one also. I was amazed. I didn't have any relationship with her to speak of. The small act of surprising generosity touched me deeply and kept her on my mind for 6 months. Our relationship didn't really change but there was this jar of jam in my fridge and every time I used it I thought of her.

Well 6 months later we were talking about the jam. It came up because our relationship had blossomed by then in an unexpected way and for an unusual reason. I related to her how the gift affected me in such a good way. She said that it was funny, that when she had prayed, she felt strongly that she should give me one of the few jars, even though she didn't know me really well either. We didn't know that our relationship would turn to friendship months later, but the Spirit did. We both identified the jam as the beginning even though it took 6 months to start. Her gift was consistent with the bible, because we are supposed to give, but she had only five, so as to who to give her gift to, she felt led by the Spirit that it should be me. I believe that is where the intersection of the bible and the inward experience of the Spirit intersect.

I completely believe that the Spirit leads us in this way. Romans 8:14 says "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." So...HOW does He lead us? I believe He does this by putting thoughts into our mind, burdens on our heart ... the fear of God into our knees.

Now, here is the difference, in my opinion, between 'word of God only' and 'divining rod Christianity'.

First of all, I don't wait for a sign. I do what the bible says to do: love my neighbor, give to widows and orphans, meet needs, help others. But in the specifics, when I 'get a burden' to do something to help a certain person, I pray and seek wisdom from the word. It could be a worthless personal desire, after all. For example some Sundays I get a strong feeling to stay home. I feel burdened that this is what I should do. But I don't listen to that (most times, lol) because I know the bible says not to give up meeting regularly. The 'burden' or 'thought laid on my heart' was not consistent with the bible and would not be edifying to Jesus.

But if it is consistent with the word then I go forward. Our pastor who is also a counselor said last Sunday that there are couples who seek divorce for non-biblical reasons, and use the Spirit as their justification. "I felt the Spirit leading me into this divorce because He wants me to be happy." Pastor said, "This is a lie. The Spirit does not lead you away from Christ and His commands but toward them." So it is dangerous to be led by feelings.

The issue is, where does He begin and I leave off? He is inside me, after all, transforming my mind, instilling wholesome desires, and convicting me of my sins. This is an inward experience. It isn't divining rod experience, but it is a legitimate inward experience that the Spirit is prompting me to help this person in particular. After all, I can't help every widow in the county, it isn't feasible.

But it's important to check- is this act that I feel burdened to do, or say, or even think, consistent with the word? If no then it stops right there. If yes, then I go forward.

Now here is the intersection of Providence. I work in a fairly impoverished community in GA where there are many needy kids. Many are "orphans" in the sense that they are in foster care, or have only one parent due to illegitimacy or jail issues, abandoned and living with an exhausted grandma, or simply are in desperate need. There are 600 kids at our school and many thousands in the county. There are many single women here too, widows through death, abandonment (divorce) or simply are single and struggling. So the bible commands me to help orphans and widows. Can or should I help ALL of them? No, that's impossible. Even Bill Gates with all his money can't help every malaria patient in Africa, even though he is trying. That's social justice.

The bible says to help. So how do I know who to help and when? The ones the Spirit leads me to. The ones where if I know of a need, I meet that need. If there is a widow in my sphere of church or work, the bible says to meet their needs. Same with orphans. If there is a widow or orphan within my reach that I don't know about, I trust Providence to send people into her life to help her. Can I help every orphan in the school? No that is impossible. I help the ones whom the Spirit has sent me in the sphere in which He has planted me. I do my part to stay alert to needs and really listen and pray for opportunities. He makes me aware of them when they come along.

I have a range and a sphere and gifts. Thus equipped, I live out my faith. That's it, it is simple. Just do what the bible says and listen for needs and act according to what the bible says we do. There is nothing mystical. Just Christian life. :)

This is kind of a crude visual but think of a dog chained to a stake. There is another dog chained other there. His leash is longer than mine, he has more range (more means, wider sphere). So the Spirit has planted me here, and sent people into my life and me into theirs. My job as a Christian is to be alert and aware of needs, listen for them, pray for opportunities to witness for Jesus through them. I can only submit, know that the Bible's commands urge me to do, and listen to the leading of the Spirit as part of that living and active word to work out my salvation in fear and trembling within the range He has planted me and with the means He has sent me. For example, I don't have a lot of money but He has given me a job where I have a lot of time. That is means. I can't help everybody or interact with everybody or witness to everybody in the world or the nation or the county but the Spirit leads me within my sphere. Providence takes care of the rest.

Back to Romans 8:14 and being led by the Spirit. Pulpit Commentary remarks on the Christian's 'inward experience.'

"In verse 14 is introduced a further ground for the assertion in ver. 13, the felt sonship to God of those who have so received his Spirit as to be led (i.e. practically actuated) by it. We say "felt" because, though in this verse the sonship is alleged as a fact, yet, in the following verses (15,16) the inward experience of true Christians is appealed to as evidence of such sonship."

I liked their phrase 'practically actuated'. The actuation is my prayer and reading the word and submission. His is the enactment of ability and transformation of mind through knowledge of the word and practical actions with the word as the basis. I'll never know where the two meet but I think it is important not to discount that there is the other half of the sanctification process where the word becomes actualized by an inward experience we can't really explain.

I think the preachers we listen to who are so strict on this should be. It is charismania out there. People take this delicate balance of inward leading versus word of God to heretical extremes. Give them an inch and they take a mile. They wait to do anything at all because they 'don't feel led'. They proclaim private prophecies upon people. They use this inward leading or burden thing as an excuse to be busybodies, the opposite of the paralyzed Christian who fails to work out their salvation because they are still waiting to be led and too scared to make a move without a sign. Worse, they don't do anything until they "feel a peace about it' which is one of the stupider things I hear the people say.

Gill's Exposition explains the Romans 8 verse this way

"the Spirit of God leads them from sin, and from a dependence on their own righteousness, in paths they formerly knew not, and in which they should go, in the paths of faith and truth, of righteousness and holiness, and in a right, though sometimes a rough way; he leads them to the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, and to the fulness of grace in him; into the presence of God, to the house and ordinances of God; into the truths of the Gospel, from one degree of grace to another, and at last to glory; which he does gradually, by little and little he leads them to see the iniquity of their hearts and natures, to lay hold on Christ and salvation by him, into the doctrines of grace, and the love and favour of God, and proportionally to the strength he gives:"

So it is ridiculous to deny that there is an inward experience. There is. But we needn't worry if we are reading the word, desiring what God desires, and looking for opportunities in our lives to obey the commands of God. He does the rest. Like Nike says, Just Do It!

7 comments:

  1. I'm very glad you touched base on this, Elizabeth. Discernment is a wonderful thing because it allows us to filter things through the Word and the Spirit. I've had my share of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Nothing radical, but a little nudge here and there for certain actions. I must admit I've thought of you as "uptight" before, mainly because I think sometimes you go too far to the point of dismissing a genuine Spiritual experience altogether. But it's nice to see we have common ground in that everything must pass the litmus test of God's Word before declaring something to be divinely-inspired.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind reply, I appreciate it so much.

      Don't be fooled, though. I really am very uptight. ;)

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  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for a post that is desirous of finding the Biblical ground in an area that ranges on extremes, the far wild one being as you said, charismania, where every subjective impression under the sun is treated as if it were a "sure word". We can't deny that we are providentially led - and even have subjective experiences - but "tested by the word always" must be the gold standard. And we don't base our faith on those experiences, but on the risen Christ, and we ground our mind on the written word.

    One thought though, in this quote:

    "...of those who have so received his Spirit as to be led (i.e. practically actuated) by it."

    Shouldn't it be led (i.e. practically actuated) by HIM? The Spirit is a Him, not an it.

    -carolyn

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    Replies
    1. I thought the word 'it' was linked back to the 'led' but I'll change it if it looks more like it is linked to the 'Spirit'. Thank you

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    2. Oops, I went to check it, and that phrase was from the quote from Pulpit Commentary, so in that case I don't want to change a quote, those are someone else's words.

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    3. Hi Elizabeth, yes, you're right, it is a quote from someone else. It still reads funny. I really think the 'it" should have been a "Him". But as you said, it's someone else's words. In any case, no man is infallible, even commentaries can get it wrong from time to time. :)

      -carolyn

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  3. I am so glad you wrote this article. Dependence on the spirit is crucial and not to be feared. In fact it the spirit of truth who will lead is into all understanding. However, it is God's word that is our litmus test and ultimate guide by which to test the spirits.

    It is this action of discernment and verification that seperates spiritually led Christians from Gnostics who are fed lies from the pit.

    Here is how I view the relationship between God's word and the holy spiritual influence. God's word is the benchmark of truth and righteousness. The spirit helps us apply that benchmark to our current life's circumstances.

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