Thomas Dohling responded to my comment with this question:
Thanks for your questions. I have a touch of insomnia, and so I have time to answer.
First, in the Bible, “word” rarely refers particularly to the Bible as the written words of God. It’s usually the message from God. For example, the early church learned about Jesus solely from oral testimony. The first NT book likely wasn’t written until around 54 AD — a quarter century after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospels came after Paul’s letters, most likely.
Even in the First Century, the OT was found in the form of several scrolls, which were extremely expensive. I read somewhere that a Torah scroll might cost the equivalent of $500,000. Hence, they were kept safely stored in the synagogue to be shared by the entire local Jewish community.
That’s not to minimize the value of the written word, just to correctly define our terms and keep us in historical context.
Second, I’ve answered all these questions in my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, which is now available as a free ebook download. (I know of two Bible colleges that changed their position on the indwelling based on my chapters on the Spirit.)
Third, obviously the Spirit works in conjunction with the word (written or oral), but not only that way. I speak from personal experience, as do many others. Even today, there are reports of Muslims from around the work seeking evangelists to teach them about Jesus because of dreams and visions they’re receiving. You can choose to doubt, but I see no reason to deny their testimony. I know too many people who’ve had experiences that can only make sense with the Spirit. To take a simple case, if you pray for someone to be healed, and God heals them, why deny that God did that through the Spirit? Why are we good with Providence even though the Bible routinely credits the Spirit with miracles?
Fourth, how does God change our hearts? Well, the passages I cited to you say the Spirit does it — and they specifically contrast God changing our hearts with our changing our own hearts. The promise is that God will do it. I believe the promises.
Fifth, we tend to reduce “the word” to rules and regulations about how to do church. The Bible speaks primarily about the Spirit’s work on our hearts. When you think of your religion as centered on patterns and rules, and you have to work hard to sort through the silences and inferences, you don’t feel the Spirit doing much — nor do you feel the need for the Spirit. But when you think of your religion as being being about having a heart like God’s, well, if I’m learning to love even those who hate me, maybe it’s because God is softening my heart through the Spirit.
Paul beautifully expresses the tension between our free will and God’s work in us in —
(Phil. 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When we “work out” our own salvation — by learning to become obedient as Jesus was, in context — then it’s really God in us, through his Spirit, working in us to will (desire) and so to work for God’s pleasure. The “want to” comes from the Spirit, Paul says. It’s not that we have no free will, but that the Helper helps — not by magic but by softening our hearts to become more receptive. To shape us into Christ-like people.
(2 Cor. 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The verb is passive. We “are being transformed” by the Spirit into the image of Christ. Earlier in the chapter, Paul explicitly contrasts the Spirit’s work in us to mere letters written on stone — the 10 Commandments, surely —
(2 Cor. 3:3 ESV) 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Paul gets this not only by inspiration but from Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.
Sixth, Paul uses the Exodus as a type or example demonstrating the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling. He indwells us just as God dwelt among the Israelites in the desert —
(Exod. 29:42-46 ESV) 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
(Exod. 40:32-38 ESV) 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses. 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
So although God is omnipresent, he had a special, intense, personal dwelling among the Israelites. Thus, Paul sees us traveling through the desert of life guided by the indwelling God through the Spirit. He lives among us to consecrate us and to lead us. And much of this language is found in Rom 8 — just as is Deu 30:6 and Eze 37 (the valley of dry bones). Paul assumes we know our OT. We don’t. I didn’t until I looked all this up to write the book.
Seventh, turn to Heb 8 —
(Heb. 8:7-9:1 ESV) 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
This is an extensive quote from Jer 31 (previously covered). God says that, in contrast to the Law of Moses, God will now HIMSELF write his laws on our hearts and minds. The Israelites had the Law of Moses in written form. Many memorized the whole thing. They studied it intensely — often knowing it far better than we know our Gospels. And God said that even obsessive study would not accomplish what he would accomplish in the hearts of the people.
[to be continued]