June 12, 2010

Little White Lies series "The Holy Spirit will reveal to me what Scripture means... (part 3)

Listening to the Spirit

This is the final post in a five day series. It is part three of the last two days.

The more we learn about God’s Word and God’s will, the more our conscience is strengthened to be more susceptible to the Spirit’s leading and calling. Many people have a problem accepting this statement because they want to believe that God leads them into all truth regardless of their attention to His leading or their effort in pursuing it. The problem with this thinking clearly arises when we see two different God-fearing Christians disagreeing over what is professed by both parties as “clearly stated biblical truth.” Faith is not magic. It does not automatically make us think and perceive all things the way God wants us to.

In John 16:13, Jesus tells his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Many people quote that passage today as if it is some kind of testimony as to how a solitary Christian can come to understand all the truth of Scripture simply by themselves. This is bad Bible study and probably one of the most destructive misunderstandings in the Church today. Not everyone is equipped to handle the Word of God rightly. They could be if they pursued the discipline of study correctly, but not everyone does.

First of all, let’s take a look at the context of this verse. Jesus is nearing the end of a very private discussion with His disciples. The discussion begins in chapter 13 in the upper room as Jesus is preparing them for His departure with final instructions and exhortations. In chapter 13, our Lord says:

From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
John 13:19–20

This is a very powerful indicator of what Jesus is talking about in John 16:13 above. Jesus is talking to his disciples, not everyone. He is giving them something that they need to know in order to be comforted in what is about to happen to them specifically.

Since Jesus is talking only to His disciples and His words are meant to comfort them, what is it that He is talking about in 16:13? Well, remember that up until the miracle of Christ’s appearance to the disciples in an upper room after His resurrection, none of the disciples had a spiritual mind. Many people like to argue this point, but Scripture clearly tells us that the unspiritual mind cannot understand spiritual truths, and the Bible clearly says that none of the disciples understood what Jesus was telling them most of the time. They believed He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), but they didn’t understand what exactly that meant, the full ramifications of that truth. Remember, to them, “messiah” meant “anointed one.” David was a messiah to them as well. So was Moses. Many people in their history were.

We know they didn’t fully understand because immediately after Jesus admonishes Peter as the rock of the Church’s foundation in Matthew 16:18, He rebukes Peter seven verses later as an “offense” and calls him “Satan” because he doesn’t have the things of God in mind, but the things of man. Peter wanted Jesus to be the messiah he had in his mind, not the predicted messiah of the Torah he was taught as a child. That was a very important and very big difference.

The disciples didn’t have a spiritual mind until the Holy Spirit came into them at Christ’s bidding after his resurrection (Luke 24:45, John 20:22). The first sermon isn’t delivered by any of them until the day of Pentecost when Peter gave his first sermon to the collective who had also received the Holy Spirit and could understand (Acts 2). In Mark 6, we see Jesus send out the disciples two by two, but at that time, it was only to preach repentance. Physical healing was an added bonus, but they didn’t understand anything more of the salvation gospel yet. Only two and three chapters later, we see the rebuking of Peter and the ignorance of the others regarding the central purpose of Jesus’s ministry.

So now, let us return to John 16:13. Jesus wasn’t telling His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide each of them into a full understanding of everything spiritual. Again, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” What is the significance of this statement?
First, Jesus is telling the disciples that they are going to be led into the truth of something that they don’t fully understand at this point. He goes on to tell them in the following two verses that what they will learn has something to do with what belongs to the Father and the Son together.

He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
John 16:14–15

So the question is: What will the disciples need to know very shortly that they don’t fully understand right at this point and that also has to do with something that the Father and the Son share? The answer is the shared deity and glory of God. Jesus was preparing His disciples for the impending crisis of faith they would face in several hours. They would hide in fear in an upper room after the death of Christ. They would go back to fishing from not knowing what else to do. But nonetheless, Christ would demand of them to bring the Gospel message of His glory and grace to the rest of the world. They had been prepared, but they wouldn’t “get it” in all its fullness until the day of Pentecost when Peter recognized the prophecy of Joel fulfilled.

John 16:13 is specifically for the eleven disciples who would not betray Him. The Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth that built off three years of Jesus’s teaching so that they could give us the message that Jesus is God, and God alone did what needed to be done. John 16:13 is intended to give the reader confidence in the message of the twelve disciples (Matthias was included by the time of Pentecost). It is not a guarantee that if we simply read the Bible as a Christian, we will understand what we read.

That is why study and accountability are such a critical piece of Paul’s message throughout the New Testament. It is very fearful (holy fear) work to study, discern, and preach the Word of God rightly. If more Christians respected this, there would be far fewer false teachers masquerading as pastors of “postmodern churches” and “movements” today. False teaching would simply be more easily recognized. This is something you need to be aware of. You need to look for a church that encourages solid biblical teaching any time you make a life transition that leads you to a new place. You cannot listen to the Spirit if you are not already paying attention to what is revealed in His Word.
Listening to the Spirit does not mean following our gut feeling. Feelings are fickle. It means pursuing His will for living by responding to His prompting of truths that are already stored away in us through study and observation. In other words, if you come to a moral crossroads and need to make an informed decision on say, having sex outside of marriage, listening to the Spirit involves responding to the truths that Scripture teaches about such an action. What feels like the most powerful pull or the right decision at the moment has nothing to do with it.
Make no mistake, the Spirit is living inside of us and will prompt us outside of our intellect, but listening to His Spirit means applying what the Spirit is prompting us to do based off of what we already know to be true from His Word, not what feels logical in our individual circumstances. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus very often silenced the proud and overzealous by referring them back to what they already knew so well from Scripture? Studying the Word is the only way to strengthen our attentiveness to what the Spirit is saying, because He won’t say something not already revealed there.

Putting It Together

Our conscience is our responsibility. It is only as effective as the bank account from which we make withdrawals. Each time we use discernment, make a decision, try to communicate our values, judge between right and wrong, or use our gifts to minister to others or worship, we are drawing from our bank account of biblical understanding. The only way to invest in this bank account and make it more secure is to study God’s Word under competent instruction. The more we learn, the stronger our conscience becomes and thus the more susceptible we are to the Spirit’s guidance.
Again, your conscience is your responsibility. How are you developing yours as an Image Bearer?

With you for His glory