A DISTINCTION BETWEEN GOD’S WORD AND GOD’S SPIRIT
As we have shown in previous lessons, God’s Spirit is a distinct personality and a member of the Godhead who dwells in the lives of faithful Christians. He is not an impersonal force or thing. As we’ve already said in a previous lesson, the word Holy Ghost has tainted our perception and understanding.
I give you these two fictional stories to prompt our thinking today: A paramedic was being interviewed by a local TV reporter. The host asked, “What was your most challenging and unusual 911 call?” The paramedic said, “It happened recently. We got a call from a very large church a few Sundays ago. One of the ushers was franticly concerned about an elderly man who had passed out in a pew and appeared to be dead. The usher couldn’t find a pulse and it appeared that the man wasn’t breathing.” The host then asked, “What was so unusual and demanding about this particular call?” The paramedic responded, “We carried out four guys before we found the one who was dead.”
The second story involves a lady who has just been stopped by a police officer. The officer approaches her car and asks her to step out and put her hands on the roof of the car and not move. She was incensed by that request and starts belittling police for not being more active in catching rapists and thieves. She demanded to know why she was being treated like this and the officer said “when I saw another driver cut in front of you I saw you make an obscene gesture and heard you shout a few profanities. And when I saw your bumper sticker which reads, “God loves you and I love you” I assumed this car had been stolen.”
God’s Spirit and God’s Word are not always apparent in the lives of believers. Too often, we use the Holy Spirit as an energy boost much like some use an energy drink. But God’s Spirit is more than an energy boost – He actually interprets what we are feeling and thinking and presents those feelings and thoughts to God, even when we are unable to formulate them in our thoughts and prayers. We can relate to God’s Spirit … cooperate with Him … and make ourselves available to Him.
We need to remember that God’s Spirit is a personality – a member of the Godhead – who dwells inside the heart of every faithful Christian. And that, God’s Word is His truth, revealed to mankind and is an instrument that the Holy Spirit employs. And, Garth Black says, “The instrument should not be mistaken for the agent. ”
Although the Holy Spirit is the source of God’s Word, there is a difference between God’s Spirit and God’s Word. God’s Spirit uses the written Word to instruct and sanctify Christians and enables them to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit uses the Word to convert nonbelievers to Christ and He also uses the Word to sanctify those who have believed. At times it may be difficult to distinguish between the two – they may seem inseparable.
In John 3:5-8 ESV, we find these words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This passage has been debated almost endlessly which has cast a mysterious shadow over it. There are at least 7 different explanations and each has some plausibility. However, the birth “of water” surely refers to baptism - to which Nicodemus and all Jerusalem had been introduced to by John the Baptist. The birth is further said to be “of the Spirit,” surely referring to the begetting of new life through the gospel message .
As we mentioned last week, we are saved by the Spirit. Titus 3:5 ESV states, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
And James 1:21 ESV reminds us that the Word is important. It says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
There are many other passages that support the idea of both the Spirit and the Word working in tandem to both convert and convict people. God’s Spirit guides and leads us through God’s Word. The truths of God’s Word convince people that they cannot save themselves and that they are in need of a Savior.
It is then through the guidance of God’s Spirit that the Christian develops and matures in the faith. The Christian is led by the Spirit both internally and externally.
In Acts 17:11 NLT we find an example for study in the lives of Berean Jews – it reads, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth.”
One of our weaknesses as a fellowship has been to accept tradition and opinion without critical examination. Just because Alexander Campbell or David Lipscomb or James Harding or some other well-known preacher stated their position or belief doesn’t necessarily make it a binding biblical principle. Just like the Bereans we need to critically examine human reasoning with the Word being the ultimate authority, while seeking and being led by God’s Spirit.
When we follow God’s Word we are being led by the Spirit. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” When one rejects the Word – they are also rejecting the Spirit. When one chooses not to obey God’s Word they are also refusing the guidance of God’s Spirit.
It is through Scripture inspired by God’s Spirit that the Christian is taught, reproved, corrected, and instructed in the way of righteousness. Unlike any other book ever written, the Bible is true and can be trusted. What is written about the Bible itself, human beings, God, life, death, history, science and every other subject is true. That is because God used Spirit-inspired, ordinary men to write what God wanted recorded for our instruction and edification.
The Bible is God’s guidebook given to us by the Spirit. Without both, we would not be able to live the Christian life or have any hope of life eternal. The ancient prophet reminds us today, “I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps – Jeremiah 10:23 NASB.” It is necessary for the believer to look to God’s Word and allow God’s Spirit to provide spiritual direction. Both, acting together, aid in molding our thoughts, feelings, purpose and life itself.
When the Christian is obedient and faithful to God’s Word, it is received into the heart and it allows the Spirit to guide and lead in order that lives might bear the fruit of the Spirit.
In addition to guiding and leading the Christian through the Word, the Holy Spirit also comforts and encourages believers. A theological word that you may have heard for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete. It simply means encourager, counselor, helper, comforter, challenger and exhorter.
Writing to the Roman believers, Paul said, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. They give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God's promises .”
For too many people today, hope is in scarce supply. In our personal relationship with God the Father and God the Son, we are controlled by the Holy Spirit when we are in fellowship. We grow spiritually through the intake of the Word of God. We experience comfort and encouragement from the Holy Spirit through the application of Biblical doctrine that is assimilated into our lives through the aid of God’s Spirit. Because of that, we can be a source of encouragement to other people.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
God puts strength into our hearts so we can face our trials and triumph over them. Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning "with strength." The Greek word means "to come alongside and help. " It is the same word used for the Holy Spirit. With God’s Spirit comforting us we can be a comfort to others whom God places within our paths.
The NT reveals many promises and blessings that God has made to the faithful Christian. All of these should comfort us and encourage us in our every effort to live under the lordship of Christ. A familiar passage of comfort is Romans 8:28 NASB which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In fact, the remainder of the chapter assures us of the victory we have in Christ Jesus.
Another passage that calms our anxieties is found in Philippians 4:4-7 NASB, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And the words of God in Hebrews 13:5 NASB are extremely reassuring, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.”
And of course, we have Matthew’s wonderful anthology of Jesus’ teachings in what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. This collection of ethical idealism assumes that the presence of God’s reign requires a radical transformation of values and ambitions. The Sermon on the Mount assumes God’s gracious presence, it cannot be reduced to a legal code requiring a certain performance to earn divine favor. Instead it should be read as an expression of the visible fruit and character development that comes when God’s sovereign reign is taken seriously and lived through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The first beatitude or blessing identifies the poor in spirit as the subject of this blessed state. Divine approval rests with those who acknowledge their impoverished condition and desperate dependency upon God .
Obviously, there are many other passages that could be cited, but the significance of God’s Holy Word and His Holy Spirit cannot be understated. At college graduations, a common theme is often, “What are you going to do with your life?” But for all of us that is not a bad question to continually ask ourselves and not just in the context of the future, but TODAY. What are the situations and people that God’s Spirit is placing before you right NOW? God has a plan for each of us, but he has never promised to reveal his plans for us in advance.
Sometimes God’s Spirit calls us and we ignore it as the voice of God. How often do we genuinely seek God’s Spirit for direction and clarity in our lives? Too often we are too busy acting and therefore we are not listening to God’s Spirit. Daily considering and pursuing the Spirit’s leading in our lives is crucial.
Even, Paul, the revered apostle had this problem. Remember his dilemma in Romans chapter 7? He discusses the impossibility of attempting to obey the flesh. He said, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” That sounds like a hopeless situation to me and it even sounds like some all too familiar situations that I have found myself in.
But what is impossible in Romans 7 is made possible in chapter 8! What makes the difference? The HOLY SPIRIT! Verse 2 states, “The Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The difference between trying and failing and truly obeying God has everything to do with following the Spirit’s leading .
God’s Spirit is important inside the walls of the church building but I personally think that His presence is more important outside the walls of the building. That was the point of the two fictional stories we began with this morning.
People who are seeking God and things spiritual want to see something in Christ-followers that is real and makes a difference in daily living. Frances Chan asks, “If you didn’t recognize their faces from church would you know from their actions and lifestyle that they were followers of Jesus? ”
Too often, Christians who should be filled with joy because the Spirit of life has set them free; drudge along daily – uninspired, cynical and living without the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives.
The Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, is not like an energy drink we use when we want a little extra power in our lives. As we stated last week, are we leading the Spirit in our lives – or – are we truly being led by God’s Holy Spirit?
Freedom in Christ and Godly holiness are not instantaneous items. Yes, our sins can be forgiven instantly but the journey takes time. It requires effort and participation on our part (and no, I’m not advocating works salvation).
It is like exercise – we have to get on the treadmill and move briskly – simply looking at the treadmill in the room is totally ineffective. Have you felt hopeless … mired in the things of the flesh … desperately seeking something better in your life? Maybe you’ve ignored or given up on the Holy Spirit – thinking that He doesn’t work or have the power to bring freedom.
The hopeful part in all of this is that even when we do ignore the Spirit and sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us of that sin. Though we often sin, we are not ruled and enslaved by sin as we once were. Believers who are filled with God’s Holy Spirit – and continue to sin – are not allowing the Spirit to lead and work in their lives.
Do you know God’s Holy Spirit? Is He working in you? Is the product of his ministry obvious and increasing?
How do we get there . . . it is not by personal works, not religious ritual, not by seeking some spectacular supernatural manifestation, not by some deep emotional experience. It begins and ends somewhere else.
Jesus said his Holy Spirit is yours for the asking and submitting: “If you then, he said, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him .”
Are you ready to ask? Are you ready to submit your life to Christ today? If we can assist – please come now as we reflect on the words of a song of encouragement.
Resources used for this sermon:
Black, Garth W, Empowered by the Grace of God, Mustang, OK, Tate Publishing Co, 2014, page 73
The College Press NIV Commentary - John
Romans 15:4 NLT
Weirsbe, Warren, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1
The College Press NIV Commentary – Matthew
Chan, Francis, Remembering the Forgotten God, David C Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2010, page 89
Chan, Francis, Forgotten God, David C Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2009, pages 31-32
Luke 11: 13