In the last post of this series, I mentioned how an understanding of the Spirit helps turn us from legalism and toward a truer understanding of grace.
When I first began seriously studying the Spirit, this concept was very difficult for me. You see, I’d always had the Spirit presented in terms of either (a) word only (representative indwelling) or (b) Pentecostalism. Either we read and apply the word all by ourselves or else we speak in tongues.
This approach to the issue is what happens when our teaching become reactive, that is, when we study to defeat our opponents — those Pentecostals or Quakers — rather than studying to learn what the Bible actually says. Most doctrine derived from debate is bad doctrine. (“In war, truth is the first casualty.” — Aeschylus)
Indeed, in the contemporary conservative Churches of Christ, there are both word-only and personal-indwelling advocates, but many who accept the personal indwelling teach a very, very limited view of what this personal indwelling does, limiting the Spirit to assisting in our prayers and to the process by which we are forgiven. Call this “personal indwelling-lite.”
Part of this is political. Those who believe in the personal indwelling are afraid to teach any real influence of the Spirit on the Christian’s heart or mind for fear of being labeled “Pentecostal.” For others, it’s the fear that we might be opening the door to tongues speaking, faith healing, and such like.
But we cannot limited our teaching for fear of where it might lead. That is to replace God’s wisdom with our own. Indeed, we often refuse to teach truth in our churches for fear of the brothers although we’d rather die than let the government limit our teaching!
I do not exaggerate when I say that my conservative brothers would fearlessly give their lives rather than give up their faith in Jesus, but many quake at the thought of being called “Pentecostal” behind their backs. Satan has found such a powerful ally in Church of Christ peer pressure that he has no need to use the government or mobs to silence many of our preachers.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the verses we considered in the last post. I begin in Deuteronomy — the second giving of God’s law to Israel, delivered by Moses shortly before the second generation of Israelites, born and hardened in the desert, crossed the Jordan to defeat Jericho.
The book begins with a recounting of God’s mighty works and the story of Israel. In chapter 10, God re-introduces himself.
(Deu 10:12-15 ESV) 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”
God declares that he chose Israel above all other people, and in return, he asks that they love and serve him “with all your heart and with all your soul.” Judaism was never a religion of externals only. From the beginning, God insisted on the hearts of the people.
(Deu 10:16 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
“No longer stubborn” or, more literally, stiffnecked is a reference back to chapter 9, where God reminds Israel of their rebellions against him in the desert — especially the golden calf. An ox or horse is “stiffnecked” if he refused to go in the direction the driver wants.
“Circumcise the foreskin of your heart” refers to the physical circumcision given by God to Abraham as a sign of the covenant. God now asks for a new, better circumcision — a heart that willingly obeys Gods and flees rebellion. Indeed, a heart that loves God with all its soul (being).
Miss this and you miss it all. Deuteronomy is first about the heart — a heart that does not rebel. God is about to lay out chapters of rules, but he starts with the heart.
In chapter 30, God predicts something even better.
(Deu 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
After Israel rebels (becomes stubborn) and the curses of the later chapters of Deuteronomy come true, God will rescue a remnant, and this remnant will have their hearts circumcised by God himself “so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
This God does by the Spirit.
(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
What is the true circumcision? The one promised in Deuteronomy 30:6 — God’s transformation of the heart “by the Spirit, not the letter.”
Therefore, what does the Spirit do in the heart? Well, quite plainly, it transforms the heart to no longer rebel against God but to instead love God with all its heart and soul.
Is this a First Century-only phenomenon? Some would love to prove that to be true, but Moses disagrees: “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring” (Deu. 30:6).
You’ve heard the phrase in bold somewhere else —
(Isa 59:21 ESV) “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
Isaiah had read Deuteronomy 30, and he was referring back to it. The Spirit that circumcises the heart is for all Christians until Jesus returns. Indeed, this Spirit places God’s words in our mouths.
It all fits together. But I struggled mightily with this, because to me, as I thought many years ago, “God’s words” were along the lines of “You must take the Lord’s Supper once and only once per week, and only on the first day of the week.” I thought of “obedience” and God’s law as being all about such commands as who could be an elder and how the church treasury could be properly spent.
Therefore, I found only nonsense in such passages as —
(Heb 8:10 ESV) 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.
(quoting from Jer 33, quoted in the last post). If God put his “laws” into my mind, why don’t I receive verbal communications from God about how to select deacons? Why don’t I receive guidance about the rules for whether announcements must be before the opening prayer? I have the “letter” in the New Testament, and so why on earth would God need to give me this information by the “by the Spirit, not by the letter”? Or does God intend to supplement the Scriptures with new rules for the church treasury?
Then it occurred to me: there’s another kind of law. If by “law” God is referring to the command to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, then my heart would be changed — not to a perfect knowledge of ecclessiology — but to become a more loving, less rebelling heart. And I could believe that without feeling threatened at the prospect of spontaneously speaking in tongues or handling snakes.
And it fits such passages as —
(Rom 5:3-5 ESV) 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Wow! That passages fits this theme remarkably well, doesn’t it?
“Poured” refers to the outpouring of the Spirit that comes with Pentecost and the new covenant, the outpoured Spirit all receive! It’s Acts 2:38 viewed from another angle!
(Gal 4:6 ESV) 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Do you see the parallel? The Spirit is in our hearts, pouring God’s love into us so that we see God as Abba Father. Because the love comes from within the Godhead, it’s an intimate, personal, relational love.
Thus, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is no personal indwelling-lite. It’s the real, rich, full thing. It changes us, because the only obedience that matters is obedience from the heart.
The form of worship means nothing if we don’t worship from the heart. If we worship from fear, then we are serving ourselves, protecting ourselves from a wrathful deity. If we worship from love, then we worship indeed.
(1Jo 4:18 ESV) 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
This being the case, what is God’s “law” that is written on our hearts? Well —
(Rom 13:8 ESV) 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
(Rom 13:10 ESV) 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
(Gal 5:14 ESV) 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Jam 2:8 ESV) 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
Notice the transition from love of God to love of neighbor. That comes from the fact that the circumcision of our hearts is targeted toward our becoming like God — not merely worshiping him.
(Eph 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
And if we imitate God, we must imitate Christ, and if we imitate Christ, we must sacrifice ourselves for others — because this is nature of God. We become like what we worship. And we worship a God who hangs himself on a cross for our sins.
(Mat 5:48 ESV) 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Now, when we approach Christianity in these terms — prophetic, rooted in Torah and the Prophets, as well as the New Testament, we find ourselves able to easily define some otherwise challenging terms.
(Gal 6:2 ESV) 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
What is the law of Christ? Well, it’s the same law God writes on our hearts through his Spirit. What is that? Love for God that wells up to love for others, patterned after the cross.
(Rom 10:4 ESV) 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For those with faith, the law ends with Christ. Of course. It’s obvious.
You see, those caught up in a debate-based gospel want to define “law of Christ” as ecclessiology, that is, Five Acts of Worship. Failing that, they want to define “law” broadly enough to pick up inferences drawn from silences — because to them these are the very boundaries of the Kingdom.
But the laws that matter are the ones God writes on our hearts, by the Spirit, so that our hearts will be circumcised and not rebel and instead worship the One True God. And he is worshiped only by those whose hearts are transformed to worship from the heart, with all their souls, and not out of fear.
So, yes, it is all about worship, but not the way we often think. It’s not “worship” as defined by Calvin. It’s worship as defined by Moses. It’s sacrifice. The change, of course, is that Jesus is now the atonement offering and we’ve become the thanks offering, responding to God’s gift by presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices patterned after his Son.