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The Holy Spirit in the Ministry of the Word Pt. 3
Dangers of an Unbalanced View
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1990
The kind of relationship that defines the way the Holy Spirit must work in and by the word has been the cause of divergence among those who claim to be christian. There are four basic combinations showing the different emphases we place upon the necessities of the word and Spirit in God's administrations of grace.
1. No Recognition of the Power of the Word or of the Spirit
Natural man rejects the supernatural as the Bible presents it. He may create his own ideas of the supernatural, but it will not be consistent with the workings of a personal, infinite and holy God. By rejecting the efficacy of both the word and the Spirit this position must, by its own testimony, stand outside of the true church. Those who reject the supernatural converting power of the Holy Spirit and of the word must logically end up in theological liberalism, secular humanism or some form of pagan mysticism.
2. Emphasis Upon the Power of the Word Without the Necessary
Word of the Spirit
Some refuse to confess the extent of human depravity into which all men have fallen. They might imagine the Spirit working in an unreceptive preparatory manner which then looks to the word working independently, but effectually, upon a yet unredeemed heart. But given the biblical view of man's spiritually dead and depraved condition, no amount of moral persuasion from the word alone, without the attendant ministry of the Holy Spirit, could turn him from his sin to a redemptive faith in the revealed truth of God.
Romans 3:10 "There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God"
1 Corinthians 2:14 "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
2 Corinthians 3:15-16 "to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the LORD, the veil is taken away."
This view, which is characteristic of the Lutherans, does not do justice to the doctrine of depravity. If the word is self- efficacious, but does not in every case bring about the spiritual transformation of its hearers, then to what must we attribute its occasions of failure to convict and convert? If it is attributed to man alone in his choice or rejection of the truths contained in the word, then man is given far more ability in his fallen condition than the Scriptures would allow. The only biblical response is that the missing element is the efficacious moving of the Holy Spirit upon the lost heart.
Without the work of the Spirit to enliven the dead soul and give understanding to the word, even the most orthodox language used in a statement of faith cannot conceal its actual distortion of truth in the perceptions of the depraved human mind. Many denominations have drifted to a "dead orthodoxy" which is really not an orthodoxy at all. When deprived of the workings of the Spirit the good seed of the word falls on stony ground or on shallow soil where it is unable to take root. Such men, as with Satan and his demons, may even be rationally convinced of certain doctrines, yet remain unconvicted.
Its easy to admit to the existence of sin generally in God's universe. Yet it is quite impossible to see its utter condemnation upon our own heart, without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in application of the finished work of grace.
3. Emphasis Upon the Power of the Spirit Without the Necessary
Means of the Word
There is also great danger when men recognize the work of the Holy Spirit, but undermine the necessity of the content and authority of the word. When through ignorance or apathy the word is not used as the authoritative touchstone of truth, then how do we know with certainty anything about the Holy Spirit? How can we distinguish his operations from the spirit of error and deception? How do we know that what we "feel led" to do is of God and not of our own deceitful heart? (Jeremiah 17:9)
If men retain the words of Scripture but strip them of their contextual meaning and authority they fall inescapably into the abyss of existentialism. Their faith is reduced to irrationalism. Many who have been satisfied to be weak in their knowledge of the word have shifted their concept of authority to their feelings and experiences which they attribute subjectively to the workings of God. They do this without even looking for justification from the written word. These hunger for truth but fail to partake of a full and well-balanced exegesis of objective revelation. These seek continuing revelation, secret knowledge and spectacular manifestations of extraordinary spiritual gifts. Being unschooled in the scriptural meaning of such gifts and their place in redemptive history, they usurp good texts of Scripture and misuse them to defend their unbalanced theology.
Calvin warned of just this kind of danger in his Institutes (IX) "Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness"
"... under the reign of Christ, the true and full felicity of the new church will consist in their being ruled not less by the Word than by the Spirit of God."
"... we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God."
"... what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark?"
"Their cavil about our cleaving to the dead letter carries with it the punishment which they deserve for despising Scripture."
"But if it is effectually impressed on the heart by the Spirit; if it exhibits Christ, it is the word of life converting the soul, and making wise the simple."
"the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognize him in his image, that is, in his word."
"He employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word."
"Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God. As they feel that without the Spirit of God they are utterly devoid of the light of truth, so they are not ignorant that the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed. They know of no other Spirit than the one who dwelt and spake in the apostles - the Spirit by whose oracles they are daily invited to the hearing of the word."
4. Recognition of the Full Interdependence of Both the Word and
There must be not only a balance, but a full interdependence of the efficacy of the word and Spirit. The word is the objective means by which the Spirit works to seal what God has made known upon Christian hearts. The word acts to guide us in the testing of what we should believe and do. The word is understood properly and made effectual upon depraved hearts only by the supernatural work of the Spirit. The Spirit acts to give us life and open our stubborn hearts to the truth of the word. He also brings to the ministry of the word its attendant blessings.
John 16:8 "when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment"
John 16:13 "When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth"
These texts confirm clearly that one of the ministries of the Spirit is the illumination of the human understanding to the eternal truths of God which are revealed to man.
The Spirit ordinarily operates in the word to bring about change in a human heart. An exception would be the regeneration of an elect infant (particularly any elect covenant children who die in infancy) or other elect person in a similar condition of natural inability who are left to the sovereign mercy of God.
Historic Christianity as a whole recognizes the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the word for the efficacious application of the work of redemption and sanctification.