The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 9

In the last post of this series, I discussed an understanding of the Holy Spirit that helps explain how God’s grace works in the individual Christian and gives an insight as to the nature of our salvation.

It occurred to me that it might be helpful to reflect a bit more deeply on the subject. After all, one of the climactic passages in Romans is chapter 8, and the first several verses deal with the Spirit.

Sadly, a word-only understanding of Romans 8 is not only erroneous, it deprives the passage of its power, making it mean little more than “read the Bible and obey” — which is hardly different from what God told the Jews 1,500 years before — and thus reduces salvation to our own ability to obey what is written.

Now, the New Testament is replete with allusions to the Exodus. We miss most of them because we’ve not read much of the Torah and because we’ve not been taught to search for the references. Thus, even excellent commentaries often overlook some of the meaning Paul thought would be obvious to his readers. Romans 8 is no different.

(Rom 7:6 ESV)  6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We have to take Paul’s use of “law” to be primarily a reference to the Torah, although the principle applies to all that we perceive to be works of law that save us.

Paul ironically speaks of the Torah — given to Israelites freed from slavery only weeks before — as holding God’s people “captive.” True freedom, Paul argues, comes only by the Spirit and not by a book of statutes — even a book inspired by God.

(Rom 7:14-15 ESV)  14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

“Spiritual” means “from the Spirit.” But even though the Torah is from God by the Spirit, the result was to sell Paul (and each of us) “under sin” because he remained enslaved to sin. Despite knowing God’s will, he cannot obey it — not entirely — and thus finds himself sold, like Joseph, into slavery.

(Rom 8:1-2 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

The conservative mind struggles to grasp v. 1, as they teach a gospel that leaves the believer condemned following every sin, or certain sins, or just those false doctrines that lead to sin, or just those false doctrines that are on an unwritten list somewhere. It’s complicated.

But the passages says “no condemnation.” This is the continuous forgiveness promised by 1 John 1:7. It lasts until we fall away, not by sinning (we all sin) but by rebelling. Hebrews explains this in terms of the Exodus, as well.

(Heb 3:15-16 ESV) 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?

Paul continues with his Exodus analogy —

(Rom 8:9-11 ESV)  9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Where does this idea of the Spirit dwelling in us come from? Well, as you might expect, Exodus —

(Exo 25:8 ESV)  8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

(Exo 29:43-46 ESV) 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.

The Torah speaks of God himself dwelling with his people, by his special presence in the sanctuary (tabernacle).

The book of Exodus ends as follows:

(Exo 40:34-1 ESV)  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.

How is that for an exciting climax? They’d not yet reached the Promised Land, but God himself entered the tabernacle and from there led the people through the desert to the land flowing with milk and honey.

That’s not the end of the story, but there could be no doubt how the story would end. God claimed his people as his own and took on the task of seeing them through to the end himself.

Thus, when Paul speaks of the Spirit “dwelling” in each of us, the allusion to Exodus and the tabernacle should be obvious. God has a special presence within each of us, in some sense he dwells within us, and he personally leads us through the desert to the Promised Land through the Spirit.

(Rom 8:14 ESV)  14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

“Led by the Spirit” means just what? Well, again, we turn to the account of the Israelites in the desert, and we find —

(Deu 8:2 ESV) And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

(Deu 8:14-16 ESV) 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,  15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock,  16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.

(Deu 29:5 ESV)  5 I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

(Deu 32:11-12 ESV)  11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions,  12 the LORD alone guided [led] him, no foreign god was with him.

The theme of God “leading” Israel through the desert is an important one, pervading Deuteronomy 8 and recapitulated in chapter 32.

Now, the conclusion is surely obvious. God leads us today through his Spirit — who dwells within us — in much the same way that he led Israel in the desert. He shows the way. He provides bread and water.

So how does God show the way today? By smoke and fire? Well, of course, not exactly. After all, the way is no longer marked out by sand and wadis. Now the path to the Promised Land is faith, hope, and love.

I’m not a big fan of the idea that we can pray to God to find a parking space. It’s not too trivial for God to do, but it is to trivial to ask. God is not our valet, and we should not trivialize what we are called to do. Indeed, God never promises to make our life easy. He’ll show us the way through the desert to the Promised Land and he’ll keep us fed and give us water, but it’s still desert.

No, he guides us foremost by writing his laws on our hearts and on our minds. That’s the promise. And the laws he writes are laws that shape our hearts into Christ-like hearts. And to be Christ-like is to serve, submit, and sacrifice for others. It’s love in the deepest sense of “love.” It’s love that costs everything. And as our hearts are transformed to become like God’s own heart, we are prepared for an eternity with him.

Now, the conservative and charismatic will both complain that I’ve been too reductionistic. The conservative wants a book of written laws, even if they have to find the laws in the silences — a pretty good sign that God has other purposes in mind for his book. The charismatic wants a healing or, at least, a tongue or two.

The conservative is not wrong to seek written guidance, so long as he takes the inspired guidance as being about what it says it’s about — how to be like Jesus, how to love like Jesus, even how to be a husband like Jesus. The charismatic is not wrong to seek more from the Spirit than love, but 1 Corinthians 13 makes clear that love is enough — indeed, the goal of all spiritual gifts. Miss this, and you miss it all.

And so, here’s the boundary: if you take the New Testament and turn it into a series of commands that have nothing to do with love or the nature of God as imprinted on his people by the Spirit, you’ve missed it. It’s not about obeying a list of positive laws to earn your way to heaven. Indeed, that approach to law is slavery, and insisting on such a thing puts you in company with the Israelites who begged to return to the comforts of Egypt and slavery. (Their story does not end well. I would not care to join them.)

Just so, Christianity is not about spectacular gifts of the Spirit. If God gives quail instead of manna, praise God! If God wants to part the Jordan River for us, that’s God’s business. Celebrate and do not blaspheme the Spirit! If not, we swim. And in the meantime, the desert is good enough, because God is with us, showing the way, and providing all the water and manna we really need.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 9

  1. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    How Does the Spirit Teach?

    “In the absence of the Spirit’s teaching, as now recorded in the New Testament, the Spirit spoke through men—the Lord “gave gifts unto men”—“The manifestation of the Spirit was given to every man to profit withal”—“till all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

    “The day of the churches’ childhood closed in the first century, when the “perfection” came, or the complete law of the Spirit was finished. Then prophesies failed, tongues ceased, and direct knowledge by the Spirit vanished away. Since that time, all have depended upon the voice of the Spirit in the Scriptures for their spiritual light; and beyond what was then written in the Volume of Inspiration, I presume no one living on earth has received a spiritual idea.

    “Before the closing of the revelation by the Spirit, such as were taught directly by the Spirit were exhorted to “Quench not the Spirit, and to despise not prophesying.” Such exhortations, however, we regard as not appropriate to an uninspired person, to anyone that now lives upon the earth, or that has lived on these shores for seventeen hundred years.

    “Furthermore, the idea of persons now being taught by the spirit never fails to weaken confidence in the perfection of the government of God. In plain words, the idea of professedly new revelations, or guidance of the Spirit, beyond what is written in the Bible, tends very much to satisfy all under the influence of the recent spiritual light, that the sacred Scriptures are of little or no value to the world. Moreover, for long observation, we are satisfied that such as look for direct spiritual light, will sooner or later renounce all confidence in the Scriptures of truth.

    “…This is a doctrine with which I have been familiar from early childhood, and I have yet to see the man or woman under its influence that trembles at the word of God, or regards, in the slightest degree the ordinances of the New Testament.

    “Wishing you not to be mistaken in my view of the dogma of direct spiritual teaching, you will permit me to say that it never fails to terminate in a complete sacrifice of the faith of the Gospel and of the hope through Jesus Christ.

    “Do you remember the direct spiritual light to Andrew Jackson Davis, Judge Edmunds, J. B. Ferguson and associates, and the end of the Lord with them? They were all delivered over to Satan…These spiritual philosophers, affected to hate the faith that comes by hearing, and professed light a priori – by a divine power within, capable of grasping truth directly? Do you remember their disgrace? For such men, there is no pardon.”

    Tolbert Fanning, The Gospel Advocate, September 18, 1866, pp. 600f.

  2. Bob Brandon says:

    “The Gospel of Tolbert”

  3. Price says:

    I Cor 14:39 “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues……” I just don’t see a modifier that would limit this admonition to a “few more years” or a “completion of the canon”, or anything else… If the purpose of the prophetic voice was to encourage, exhort, edify, equip for ministry…. which is what it is says…then, have we “matured” to the point of no longer needing these things ?…I think not… Prophesy is inappropriately assigned the value of commands for all in an attempt to equate it with Scripture in order to reject it …

    I Cor 13:10 used as an end date for the gifts of the Spirit is the weakest argument ever put forth… It is an attempt to justify lack of experience and strengthen the reliance upon self. The Early Church Fathers wrote about personal encounters of the Holy Spirit and various signs and operation in the Spirit by individuals for 500 years… They apparently needed to be encouraged, edified, and equipped for the ministry… I rarely speak to a missionary whose work takes them into very difficult circumstances that doesn’t give testimony after testimony of God “showing up.” It is a rare collection of believers that when asked, either publicly or privately (to avoid criticism) have their own personal testimonies of encounters with the gifts…Those that do not encounter the Holy Spirit nor recognize His direct involvement today simply have closed their eyes and ears or have just refused to look for Him..

    I Cor 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

  4. Jerry says:

    Brother Tidwell,

    I believe, in quoting from br. Fanning, you have set forth a false dichotomy: his premise is that if there is no new spiritual law revealed, there is no leading of the Spirit. Jay has not claimed revelation today of new spiritual principle that differs from the teachings of the Scriptures. This, to him, is not the way in which the Spirit leads today or in which prophets today may speak.

    Yet, even in the Old Testament era, when the Torah was complete new spiritual insight was to be tested by at least three tests:
    * Does the prophet speak in the name of the LORD God of Israel?
    * Does what the prophet predict come to pass?
    * Does what the prophet says agree with other known prophecy?

    In other words, if a prophet would seek to turn Israel away, for example, to the worship of Baal, he was a false prophet. If a prophet who spoke in the name of Yahweh said that Judah would return from Babylon within two years when Jeremiah said the captivity would be 70 years, he was a false prophet. Jeremiah’s prophecy of doom for Judah was defended before the king by pointing out that what he was saying was in line with what other prophets had said previously, though with a then up-to-date application.

    Similarly, though not necessarily exactly the same, tests can be applied to current prophecies with no threat to the authority and veracity of the Scripture.

    In fact, many of those who comment on this web site have reached their current positions that differ from the traditional teachings of the churches of Christ because they have followed the principles taught by men such as Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. Campbell, for example in The Christian System, spoke of the difference between opinions and principles – and declared that if his principles were in conflict with his opinions, he would sacrifice his opinions for the sake of principle. This is what many of the “progressive” commentators here have done and are doing.

    I, myself, have often said that I believe my opinions are the very best in the world (and so do all of us). The reason is that when someone convinces me he has a better opinion than mine, I adopt it as my own. While many here question opinions, they do not question Scripture. What we do is apply Scripture to our opinions and test opinion by the Word of God.

    This is exactly what the leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement did and taught others to do, but which many of their successors have forgotten to do. Many in the movement today think that the church has been completely restored with little to nothing for us to do today except to maintain the status quo.

    That is what most who comment here reject. We prefer to think of our efforts as on-going reformation instead of restoration of the church.

  5. I once taught what was quoted in the first comment. I used to think that 1 Cor. 13 was the final spike in the workings of the Holy Spirit. God be praised that my eyes were opened to truth.
    Our historical traditions in teaching have taught that faith can not move mountains, because God just does not work that way anymore. He is going to rely solely on the word of God found in the texts at hand. Well those very texts, as put forth in this article, speak of a powerful God that still moves in mysterious ways that defy human understanding and can only be seen by a spiritual eye.
    For about 15 years, what I knew to be truth has been tested through study, experience, observation and experimentation. One facet of this process was the fact that I wasn’t involved with all of this “change agent, progressive movement” none-sense. Just recently I have found these sites that are discussing the subject. Some have merit for their integrity others not so much for their rudeness. What I keep seeing on occasion is a form of what I state, “I came to these conclusions after study, experience and an eye opening.”
    Now, what I draw from this comes from scripture. I am reminded of the compelling of the Spirit, the indwelling, the intercessions, the prevention, the quenching, the leading ect. of the Holy Spirit. I must add that the more I study; the more powerful these influences are in my life. That in itself is another proof of the fact that the Holy Spirit is not just relegated to a knowledge, but rather an indwelling influence on the Christian’s life.
    Finally, two points of consideration as to what to do about what I like to tongue in cheek and seriously call, “prophecies of repentance”. One, remember Gamaliel’s response to this new sect. If it is from God; you can’t fight it. If it is not; it too shall fall away. And the other would be that, If we are wrong, if what we see that needs to be repented of as a body is not right in the sight of God and does not please Him; Paul assures that tho the works be burned up; the salvation of the man is still his. This lovingly applies to both sides of the discussion.
    Take care and choose well.

  6. Pingback: The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 10 | One In Jesus

  7. Norton says:

    Much of our confidence in the New Testament Scriptures rests on the idea that the Holy Spirit guided men of the early church to recognize truely inspired writings and to sift out uninspired writings. To say the the Spirit ceased to work in men after the first Century is cast doubt on the New Testament as being truely the Word of God.

  8. Joe Baggett says:

    The bible it self is merely knowledge just like a book of scientific facts. Some people have even memorized it. Bible knowledge and the ability to argue from it are revered especially in the churches of Christ. Now the difference between a person who reads the bible for the most thorough understanding and the person who reads the bible and is constantly personally transformed is the ……….Holy Spirit! That is the supernatural.

  9. Brent says:

    Do the Christian Churches not have varying beliefs about the Spirit as we find in the Churches of Christ? Is the “Word Only” teaching only found in some of the Churches of Christ and not in any of the Christian Churches?

    I was not aware that this false teaching was only found in some of the Churches of Christ. Please tell me that Churches of Christ are not the only ones who have screwed this one up. I don’t know why . . . but for some reason . . . I would fell a lot better if you could tell me that some of our Christian Church brothers have screwed this one up too.

  10. I hope I’m only one of many members of churches other than anti-instrument Churches of Christ who is interested in subjects such as this one. I believe we have many differing views among us just as do those in Church of Christ congregations which are not free from legalism. I’m sure that Jesus asks us to baptize “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I’m sure that the gift of the Spirit is promised to all who turn to Jesus as Lord and are baptized in water in His name.

    Some of “us” believe in speaking in tongues. I do not. Some of us attempt to drive out demons, invoking the name of Jesus. I do not. Some believe in divine healing. I think it best to follow modern practice of medicine as well as to pray for healing. We have many differing views about the Holy Spirit within our “restoration movement” churches. I’m confident that any “message” given to us that disagrees with the written message from the Spirit was not given by the Spirit of God.

    I’m confident that we ought to be one body in Christ without having to agree on every preference or practice. I see that Jesus wants us to be united. Every requirement made by human wisdom is a barrier to that unity of the Spirit which should unite us. Any teaching which is not based on apostolic truth but made a requirement for fellowship is antagonistic to unity. I have to consider Jay’s understanding of Luke’s account of Pentecostal events as being wide of the truth. I believe it is wrong to call for baptism in the Spirit to be just the same as the gift of the Spirit given to all Christians. The fact that the miracles spoken of in the early church being done by the apostles is significant. To me it’s obvious that only the apostles received baptism in the Spirit.

    To imply that many or all Christians received the Spirit in apostolic power is not believable. It was the apostles who were told to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with “power from on high.” It was the other apostles who joined Peter in preaching on that day. It was the apostles who performed miracles in the immediately following days. To me it’s obvious that only the apostles were baptized in the Spirit.

    Therefore, when Peter saw the same signs when God had sent him to a Gentile household, it was to what the apostles had received that he made reference. No signs of any kind other than being wet all over followed immersion in water of repentant believers. The signs seen in Samaria and in the case of disciples of John who were baptized by Paul followed a laying on of hands rather than the baptizing. If there were living apostles still available, I’m sure we would see many more examples of true “tongue speaking” in our churches. They needed prophets in the years prior to the establishing of the canon and even prior to availability of printed copies of the canonical books. Is there not the same need where missionaries are working in fields where there are not yet Bibles in the language of the people?

    I think it wise for us to not create laws or seek definitive answers to every possible problem in matters where we know little for sure. What we are sure of is that Jesus wants us to love one another–every one. Do we sometimes forget to do so?

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