December 2, 2020
Dr Ritch Boerckel and Pastor Josh Beakley
Josh: Well, good evening again to those who are here. Welome! You can join us up front. And to those who are online, we’re thankful to be able to connect from a distance. Tonight we are concluding our series on discipleship in one sense, and yet, as we’ve talked about desiring to follow Jesus together, we realize that following never stops. It’s what we’re always doing. So we’re going to shift for a little bit for the Christmas season, but we’re always going to be talking about what it means to follow Jesus. We ended the series with a discussion on the Holy Spirit with just a simple title, You Are Not Alone, from John 14. So I thought we might just read those verses together and pray and then discuss the importance of the Holy Spirit, especially as it relates to discipleship. But just an encouragement and reminder to everyone who is here and those who are online, you’re welcome to text questions and the number is on the screen. Those questions will come to our Tech Team in the back and they’ll forward them up to us and we’ll try to answer those as we can. So, the Holy Spirit, You Are Not Alone, John 14. I’ll just read verses 16-18 and then if you would, Pastor Ritch, pray and we’ll talk about the Holy Spirit.
Ritch: Absolutely! That would be great!
Josh: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
Ritch: Let’s pray together. Father, thank you that you did not leave us as orphans, but that you sent your Spirit and your Son sent the Spirit to us so that we would not be alone, that we would have you to walk with us, your Spirit to indwell us. There is never a moment where we are a people who are without Him. Lord, as we reflect upon Him and His Person tonight, Lord, help us to understand more of who He is and His ministry in our life and that we would be led by Him, that we would walk with Him, that we wouldn’t quench Him or that we wouldn’t grieve Him, but rather, Lord, that He would be the one to whom we listen as we open up your Word and He explains to us the meaning of your Word as well as its application. Father, thank you for your Spirit. What a gift that we received when we received the gift of your Spirit! So please bless us tonight in our conversation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Josh: Amen. So after you preached on Sunday on the Holy Spirit, on this passage, you and I were talking and you said you had quite a response from people. It surprised you, even, when we talk about the Holy Spirit. It seems like of the different teachings of the Bible, what God says and teaches about the Holy Spirit seems to be one that tends toward extremes in our understanding. There is the extreme of either overlooking the idea of the Holy Spirit, this Person of God, or totally overemphasizing it in a way that distorts what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. It seems like extremes abound when it comes to what God says about the Holy Spirit, and confusion abounds. Maybe that’s part of the response that you received. It was people just thankful to hear a little bit and then even asking perhaps for more. So one of the things that you and I talked about is perhaps there is more teaching on the Holy Spirit that would be in the near future. But maybe just an initial question, why is it so important to consider the Holy Spirit when we think about the topic of discipleship?
Ritch: Well, you think about the series that we’ve gone through. We talked about what it means to believe; that we need to repent of our sin and we need to turn and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. That whole matter is impossible apart from God’s Spirit. So that just won’t happen unless the Holy Spirit is working before we become a disciple through the convicting work, where He convicts us of our sin. He convicts us of the righteousness of God. Then when we come to faith in Christ, there is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. He gives us life. He seals us for the day of redemption so that from that moment of believing, we are secure in the love of God for us. So that whole section of believing is impossible apart from the Spirit.
Then we talked about belonging. Again, it’s the Holy Spirit that creates the church. We talked about, for instance, baptism. Without the baptism of the Holy Spirit there is no meaning to water baptism. We talked about church membership. Without the Holy Spirit placing us inside the body of Christ, gifting us for that very purpose of being meaningful members of a local church, without the Holy Spirit’s work, then church membership also would be meaningless. We talked about the Lord’s Supper. It’s the Holy Spirit that connects us to the new covenant. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t understand the new covenant, let alone to celebrate and worship. So we can’t worship God without the Spirit because he who comes to God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth, Jesus says. So that aspect of belonging is absolutely essential for us to experience the work of the Holy Spirit.
Then, becoming; the sanctifying work where we become more like Christ and where we become witnesses. We talked about those two matters in this series. So apart from the Holy Spirit, that’s why this became sort of the final concluding chapter, none of the other messages that we preached would be able to be applied to life. We want to acknowledge that believing, belonging, becoming is not simply the work of good men and women who are just trying to obey God. It’s the work of the Spirit in us. The ability, the enablement we have to believe, belong, and become, entirely rests upon the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we’re passive. We talked about that through this series. But it does mean we’re dependent. So we believe that this message on the Holy Spirit was absolutely essential for us to consider and apply everything that we talked about before.
Josh: When you think about this idea of following Jesus together, we’re focusing and emphasizing Christ at the center of that. But we do serve a Trinitarian God. By that, I mean that the Bible teaches that God is three in one; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And sometimes the way that we’ve talked about it is that we’re seeking to be Christ-centered, God-glorifying, Spirit-empowered. As we follow Jesus, we do so by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God. That dynamic is not an easy one, but it’s one where we’re trying to just convey what we see in Scripture. But this idea of how we relate to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit seems to stir a lot of confusion, especially in the realm of the Holy Spirit. You mentioned this one thing about the importance of the Person of the Holy Spirit and not considering the Holy Spirit being an “It,” but actually being “He,” being God, and there seems to be confusion. What are some of the confusions that you’ve seen in the church when we think about the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force or an “It”?
Ritch: Well first, the confusion or the lack of knowledge; we could even use ignorance. Sometimes that sounds a bit harsh to talk about the ignorance of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit or the teaching, the truth that God has revealed to us about the Holy Spirit. It is broad and pervasive. So on one side, we have, for lack of a better division, the non-charismatic church. I would be part of that section. On that side, it’s as though we’re kind of afraid to think about the Holy Spirit to talk about the Holy Spirit, to experience much of the Holy Spirit out of fear that we might drift into this sort of charismatic sort of environment or mentality.
Josh: You used that word “charismatic.” Can you define or explain what you mean by charismatic?
Ritch: Yes. All these terms are sort of defined variously, so I don’t claim to be the authority on the definitions of those. But when I think of “charismatic,” I think of someone who emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit more even than the work of Jesus. That emphasis then leads to sort of an emphasis on the mystical sign gifts like speaking in tongues and healings. That emphasis also leads to more of an ideal of personal revelation that also is received directly from God without mediation of Jesus or of the Word. So those would all be characteristics of what I would say is a charismatic sort of mentality. First, there are charismatics who are amazing followers of Jesus. So this is not to partition the charismatics as being, we’ll say, outside of Christ. Within the non-charistmatic church and the charismatic church, there are those outside of Christ. But there are also those inside. But it is to say I am concerned about what I just described, that that’s a healthy form of following Jesus. I don’t see it in Scripture. I don’t see it modeled. I don’t see it as part of God’s instructions to us about how to follow Jesus.
On the other side, the non-charismatic would be again more of the revelation is the revelation God has given us already through Jesus as it is documented, set apart for us by the printed written Word of God, which is actually a product of the Holy Spirit. But out of a fear that we might start moving toward some of these, maybe we’ll say, abuses, emotional kind of application of the Holy Spirit, much of the non-charismatic church has just avoided the subject altogether. And if they have, there have been a couple doctrinal classes about the Holy Spirit and there is not a lot of talk about what the Holy Spirit is teaching us, how He is helping us, how even He is leading or guiding us. And I think that’s a big loss. It’s a big loss of the life of the Spirit in the church when we’re so afraid of this matter of the Holy Spirit that we’re not really talking about Him the way the Bible talks about Him.
The Bible talks about Him much, all through the gospels, as we see here in John 14-16 how much Jesus talked about the Spirit, and then the book of Acts. Some would say it’s right to actually title the book of Acts not “The Acts of the Apostles,” but rather, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because the Holy Spirit is central to that. And then there are the epistles. Again, we just have these matters of “be filled with the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, don’t grieve the Spirit, don’t quench the Spirit.” So over and over and over, we’re taught and it’s modeled for us that the life of the Holy Spirit is central to following Jesus. It’s not on the periphery.
Josh: And the clarity is found here. You just talked about some of the abuse is really minimizing Jesus or the truth, but really, the Word incarnate, in Christ or the Word written in Scripture, which the Holy Spirit drives us towards, and not away from. So we have to look for clarity here. Part of that is where we’re going to be going in terms of teaching from the book of Acts, which is where we plan to go next. So starting in 2021, after the Christmas series, we’ll plan to step into the book of Acts and even take an excursion if possible, and focus on the Holy Spirit. But we’re looking for clarity here. You brought out some clarity on Sunday and we’re thankful to look ahead for more. Here’s a question that comes in, practically. So the question is, is the idea of practicing the presence of God a helpful way for people to be more aware of the Holy Spirit and His working? I don’t know if that’s a term that you’re familiar with; practicing the presence of God. I don’t know if you know where that originated from or maybe how it’s used in modern day.
Ritch: Sure. First, as I’ve interacted with people, they have used that phrase differently. So some use of that phrase, I’m completely comfortable with. The truth is that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Here in the passage, John 14:16-18, Jesus says He is with you and He will be in you. So the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to every Christian life. That means then that we are right to walk with the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. So I think the Spirit is involved when we do what Jesus says here in John 15, which is “abide in me and I will abide in you.” So He’s using language there of His real personal presence, even though He is ascending. How is He personally present? Again, it’s through the Spirit of Jesus, which is the Holy Spirit. We can have that kind of presence of God in our life. So if we mean by practicing the presence of God, if we just simply mean that we’re…
Josh: …obeying the command of abiding in Christ…
Ritch: And we’re conscious of His living presence in our life. There is a flowing conversation with God that is informed by the revelation He has given us in His Word. The Spirit is active, so the Spirit helps us understand what His Word instructs us, corrects us, rebukes us, trains us. Then the Holy Spirit also is very active, I believe, in application of the Word. So there is this conversation that we would have with God through the Word and then our conversation to Him, recognizing His presence.
You know, what’s difficult when we start parsing out Father, Son, Holy Spirit, is you never have the Father without the Son and the Spirit. You never have the Son without the Father and the Spirit. You never have the Spirit without the Father and the Son. So in some ways, again with this parsing out, we have to be careful of making such strong lines of distinction so as to lose the oneness of God. So, even as we talk about it, it does get uncomfortable, like, “Am I talking about this accurately?” because it’s such a great mystery. We don’t want to lose the oneness. We don’t want to lose the threeness of God.
Josh: That touches on this next question. Can you talk about the name Holy Spirit? Neither “Holy” nor “Spirit” set Him apart from the other members of the trinity. So how does that name uniquely describe Him and what benefit does it provide?
Ritch: He is Spirit. Jesus was embodied. So when the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus was telling His disciples very clearly, and it’s the word used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as well, to indicate that this person of the Godhead is Spirit. He’s not embodied like Jesus became incarnate, which is what Christmas is about. He is holy, but Jesus is holy and the Father is holy, and they’re called holy. So He’s not uniquely holy and different from the holiness of the Father and the Son. But what I would again argue, this word holy is really unique to God. We shouldn’t think of holiness only and define it only in reference to the world.
A lot of times when we ask, “What does it mean to be holy?” the common answer is that it means to be separate from evil, separate from or separated to. So there is this world and so they’re separated to God. The question that really challenged me when I read this book by Sinclair Ferguson called Devoted to God. It’s fantastic! But he asked a question…it was about two years ago that I read this… that I hadn’t thought about before. He said, was God holy before He created the world? The answer of course is yes. Well, how was He holy? If we’re defining holiness as separated from or separated to, when there wasn’t anything but God, how was God holy? So what is the definition of holy if we’re always using holy in reference to creation? Does that make sense? So his point was that holiness is an extreme devotion to God. Holiness is like the Father is completely devoted to the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is completely devoted to the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit is completely devoted to the Father and the Son. It’s an unbreakable devotion. It’s a completely pure kind of devotion. Our holiness really is a devotion to God. So that’s it primarily. In order to be devoted to God, we have to be separated from the world. We have to be separated to God now because we live in the context of a fallen world. But holiness has meaning in eternity past and without creation. So when this Person is called the Holy Spirit, He wants us to know His connection to the Father and the Son. He is a Person entirely devoted to the glory of the Father and entirely devoted to promoting the glory of the Son.
Josh: That’s good! It opens up a lot of other questions. Here’s one that isn’t mentioned here, but when you hear that statement “holy, holy, holy,” I think this cry is in Isaiah and Revelation, do you think of that as kind of conjuring references to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or is it just sort of a three emphatic reference to God?
Ritch: It could be both. I think that there is ground to see the implication of the trinity inside of that cry of the angels in Isaiah 6. But it is also one of emphasis. This Person, this being that Isaiah is seeing is being declared as holy, holy, holy. But personally, I would tend to see the Trinitarian implications behind that three-fold statement. But I’m okay if a person doesn’t. I don’t think you’re outside the faith or …
Josh: The doctrine of the trinity doesn’t rise and fall on…
Ritch: It does not rise and fall on that one verse.
Josh: So, I think about this idea of discipleship and we’re not alone. When you think about trying to help people follow Christ, helping others especially in the realm of witness, how have you found it personally helpful or comforting thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Your personal discipleship or witnessing, trying to make disciples.
Ritch: So first, the Holy Spirit opens doors. Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for open doors. Well, if you pray that means God must be available to do that. How does He do that? I believe it’s the working of the Holy Spirit to open up doors of opportunity. In other words, we don’t have to find them or jam ourselves through the doors that aren’t open. But we can trust the Holy Spirit. Just as He led Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, he was led by the Spirit. Not everything in Acts is meant to be a model. In fact, there are a lot of aspects of the book of Acts that are transitional. But also I don’t see why the Holy Spirit would not lead us to be convinced that He would have us to witness or to share the gospel with individual people. If He’s the one that opens doors, it seems like He’s going to show us when there is an open door and to whom that door is open. So, one is it makes us dependent from the very beginning upon the Holy Spirit even for the initial conversations. And that’s a great encouragement! All of us have people in our life that we think the door is closed so hard that the moment I say “Jesus” or “God,” they’re just going to flare and flame and get fired up. Well, I’m looking for those doors. There often would be a trial the person experiences that kind of causes them to be undone. There may be other circumstances or books that person reads or other matters in their life that all of a sudden that person says, “Yes, I’m willing to have a conversation.”
I think the folks that I talk with, believers who are pretty active in witnessing and especially witnessing to their family, they see times of, “God opened a door for me. I recognized that God did this, but now it’s shut again.” It opens and shuts. It opens and shuts. They’re just waiting on God’s Spirit to open the door. Then God’s Spirit also not only shows us that the door is open, but He gives us boldness. So in the book of Acts, boldness in speaking the Word is connected with the filling of the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit gives us courage. What an encouragement! I don’t have to come up with the opportunities and make it happen. I don’t have to come up with the courage and make myself strong. The Holy Spirit does this.
Then, the most encouraging thing of all, I think, is that the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to bring life to people who don’t believe the gospel. A person doesn’t have to believe the Bible in order to believe the Bible. Does that make sense? So when you first start talking to a person and opening up the Word, they say, “I don’t believe that.” Okay. Let’s just read the Word. And as we read the Word, the Holy Spirit is making application of the Word to bring life inside that person who would say, “I don’t even believe the Bible.” And now, as they’re listening, they hear and become convinced of the truthfulness of the Bible through the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s huge in our witness and an encouragement, because most of us don’t feel like we’re overly persuasive people. We can’t convince other people to believe anything.
I wonder if I could even convince a person to drink this brand of water, if this is my favorite water? I don’t know. I’m not confident in my ability to convince you that this is the brand of water to drink, let alone to take up your cross and follow Jesus. So it’s huge to think about the daunting challenge of convincing someone to follow Jesus. I think of the Apostle Paul. He went into these cities like Ephesus, and they had these huge temples to Diana. That’s all they knew, and they knew the glory of Diana, this goddess. Everybody sang about her. The whole community and the economy was wrapped around this temple worship. Everybody in the town was committed and he goes in there with the audacity to challenge people to turn away from their idols and to worship the true and living God. What chance does a foreigner have with that message to convince people who are rooted in this community, of anything? I would say there is almost zero chance. If you’re trying to start a “Jesus Company” just on the basis of your sales pitch, this is not likely that there are going to be any sales. But it’s not about sales. It’s about the working of God. So that’s the amazing privilege of being part of the witnessing mission of Jesus in this world.
Josh: What do you think about this thing when people say, “God told me to go talk to” a person. Or “God told me to come talk to you. God told me you needed some encouragement.”
Ritch: First, again, test the spirits, the Scripture says, because not everything we feel is of God. And yet, I would affirm the validity of that. That’s what we just talked about. We do believe the Holy Spirit opens up doors. I know that’s extrabiblical, but test the spirits. Oftentimes, people have used that phrase as sort of an invitation to say what their flesh wants to say to the person. Does that make sense? “The Spirit told me to tell you…” and usually it’s something that is really frustrating to them and they’re kind of emotionally excited to have the person change. Well, that’s probably not the Holy Spirit telling you to say what you want to say to them. Does that make sense?
Josh: Sure. Frustration is not a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Ritch: So you take all these frustrations and say, “Now I’m going to put the Holy Spirit on this.” Just as a for instance, my wife was told by a couple guys in college that the Holy Spirit told them that she was to marry them. So I would say, test the Spirit. The Spirit glorifies the Father and He doesn’t typically exalt our own opinions. He isn’t the source of the venting of our frustrations. He isn’t the person who is all about aggrandizing us and our desires.
Josh: So you were confronted with this doctrine early on in life.
Ritch: Right! Exactly! These folks again, I think sincerely, because they were ignorant about the teaching of the Holy Spirit and they didn’t test the spirits, they sincerely believed that my wife, Kimberly, was disobedient to God when she turned their proposals down. They really believed that she didn’t have the Spirit. Again, this is where the Word is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. Test the spirits by the Word. We don’t just run willy-nilly because we prayed and we have a few thoughts that seem right to us, to assign that to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Josh: So let me ask a more vague question. Let’s say I’m in a church and I just kind of feel a heaviness. I feel like God is telling me this is not good. I feel like the Holy Spirit isn’t here. What should I do about that? If I just feel like I would expect something else and I don’t feel it.
Ritch: So again, this is where we have to submit our thoughts, our expectations, our beliefs to the Word. Sometimes we don’t feel the Holy Spirit because it doesn’t have this emotional energy that we’ve grown accustomed to and that we like. But in the Bible, is this an expectation that God says we should have or else the place is devoid of the Spirit? So if we’re associating too much this emotion, and it can happen both in non-charismatic as well as charismatic churches. It’s sort of an emotional feel that is actually again, it’s not wrong, but it is satisfying to my flesh. In other words, you don’t have to be a spiritual person to enjoy that electricity that gets in a room when certain music is played, when a speaker is in a certain kind of coaching, motivational moment. So you test the spirits.
Here’s what I would ask in order to know if the Spirit of God is here. Is this place a place where Jesus is being proclaimed accurately, clearly and boldly? Is it a place where these folks are following Jesus? Are they obeying Him? Is this a place where they’re dependent upon Him and desire to do His will, His mission? Where they’re also leaning on God’s Word as their authority, if the answer to these questions, and there are probably more questions to ask in that reference, is yes, who am I to say that the Spirit is not there? That is a censorious spirit. That’s a judgmentalism based on some rather fleshly longings that would aggrandize me. “I expect this place to give me this feeling and if it doesn’t, then I’m just going to condemn it.” That’s actually, in the Bible, something that God says is wrong and is destructive to His church.
The fellowship of the church should be based upon one thing, and that’s Jesus, in simplicity. Is Jesus here? Is He being honored? And I’m going to base whether He’s here on the basis of are we proclaiming Jesus as the Spirit revealed Him in the Word? Are we obeying Him? Are we following Him at great cost? Are we all about His glory and not our glory? Are we about being faithful to His mission? If so, there’s the presence of Jesus. You read Revelation 2 and 3 and you hear these seven churches. I don’t have any sense that Jesus walked through those churches and then the Spirit said “make sure you listen to what the Spirit says to the churches” at the end of each of those, that Jesus walked and looked for some kind of electricity in the room. He looked for things like, what’s your teaching like? Well, we teach the doctrines of Balaam here.
Josh: Doctrinal soundness.
Ritch: He looked for practical holiness. How are you living? Are you compromising the message? He did look for missional faithfulness, for fruitfulness. Then He looks for faithfulness in the midst of persecution and suffering. How do you respond when there is such persecution that you’re just a small group of people, but you’re being faithful? Well, to faithfulness Jesus gave only commendation. To things that are impressive, you have a name for yourself, He would say to one of the churches, but you’re dead inside. So again, I would say test the spirits on the basis of the Word and be careful that your evaluation is not your evaluation, but it truly is Jesus’ evaluation. You know that on the basis of what Jesus has already said.
Josh: That question I think starts to get answered in some really helpful ways as we look at the book of Acts and thinking about what Jesus said to the churches in Revelation, what the Spirit says to the churches there. So those are some helpful things. I know we’ll touch on it some. Here’s a question that came in. Why does the Holy Spirit have the article “the” in front of Holy Spirit? Is it appropriate to call Him “Holy Spirit?” I’ve heard people say that calling Him “the Holy Spirit” makes Him feel less personal, but I don’t want to leave that out if the Bible calls Him that. Also, what are good ways we can engage with His personality? So it’s two questions. One, is it appropriate to just say “Holy Spirit” versus “the Holy Spirit?” And are there ways that are right to engage with His personality? I’ll maybe throw in a question that lines up. Is it appropriate to pray to the Holy Spirit?
Ritch: So first, in reference to “the Holy Spirit,” I actually have not thought about that question before. I’m looking at translations where there is any time where He’s not called “the Holy Spirit,” and I’m actually not finding any in this quick preview. But you know, the Father is also called “the Father” and the Son is also called “the Son” indicating personal uniqueness. There are not a whole bunch of Holy Spirits around. There’s not a whole bunch of Sons. There’s not a whole bunch of Fathers. We’re talking about the Holy Spirit. There are, we’ll say, spirits of holiness that believers can have. Believers can have a holy spirit, small h and small s. But there is only one Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit. So that’s how I would answer it. That actually is very personal, then.
Josh: Right! But this idea of direct address I guess is where it comes into it. Is there an occasion in Scripture where someone prays to the Holy Spirit? There are occasions where people pray to the Father. They pray to Jesus. But the majority of the time in the New Testament, the prayers are made to the Father. Is there a time when there is a prayer made to the Holy Spirit? I’m sure we can look that up. I don’t know if you know off the top of your head.
Ritch: I can’t remember actually right now. It seems like there is one occasion. I know with Jesus, for instance, there is “even so come Lord Jesus.” I’d have to look a little bit more. It just seems like there was one occasion where there was an instance of calling out to the Holy Spirit. But with that said, again, I want us to be careful because first of all, there are no places that we’re forbidden to pray to the Holy Spirit. The normal instruction for us as we acknowledge one God in three persons is praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. That is the normal both precept as well as example of our prayers. And yet, again, this is where we have to be careful of making these three persons so distinct as to say that praying to the Spirit is wrong. So I would fall short of saying praying to the Holy Spirit is wrong because the Holy Spirit is God of very God. He is just as much God as the Father is God. He is just as much God as Jesus is God. It probably confuses His role in our salvation in our lives. So, I’ll stop there because it’s a question I probably want to take some more time to make more proclamations than that.
Josh: Right! It’ll be good to think about. There are many times where it’s referred to in the Scriptures that the Holy Spirits speaks. He speaks to us. Paul would say that He testifies to me and then we see He speaks through the Word. So the Holy Spirit certainly speaks to us and we can listen to the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. Then Romans 8 talks about the Holy Spirit interceding for us. So in our prayers, he says that the Spirit helps us. That relates to that John 14 passage. He helps us in our weakness. “We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” So it sounds like even Paul acknowledges that he had some issues with knowing what to pray for. He acknowledged that we don’t even know what we’re supposed to pray for. “But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So it seems that there is a sense in which the Holy Spirit is interceding on our behalf even when we don’t know what to pray for.
Ritch: Absolutely! So His part in praying is not in question at all. We’re to pray in the Spirit at all times. I think that’s Ephesians 6 that speaks to that. Then as you referenced in Romans 8, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and also helps us in our weaknesses. That’s a reference I think to prayer.
Josh: Right! So it’s not forbidden. It’s not the typical pattern. We’ll have to table it for now to say there might be a reference to Holy Spirit. We’d have to go look. But His involvement in prayer is very integral. So are there ways to engage with His personality? And maybe I’ll throw that back to John. You mentioned this idea, and I know in your sermon, you weren’t able to continue further in depth on the Holy Spirit being a Spirit of truth and how to engage with God in His Holy Spirit through Scripture and through truth. But how does that idea of Scripture engaging with the Holy Spirit, how do those interplay?
Ritch: This is where I’m concerned by the charismatic aspect of many folks’ practice. It’s because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and we think about what the Holy Spirit has done with the truth. So in John 17, after He calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth who will guide you into all truth and bring to remembrance. He’s speaking to the apostles who are going to be writing the Scriptures. He’s going to remind you of this truth. Jesus then prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” So He is called the Spirit of truth and then He asks for His disciples to be sanctified by the Spirit, set apart, devoted to God, made complete, and your Word is truth. So what we have here is Jesus’ testimony that how the Spirit speaks is through the Word. So the Spirit of truth, the Word is truth. Then later, we’re given greater explanation in 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. So it’s given by inspiration of God. In 2 Peter 1 it says this is how it happened. Holy men of old were carried along by the Holy Spirit. So there are frequent references when the Scriptures are quoted, to using the phrase, the Holy Spirit spoke through David, for instance. So that’s a frequent way of speaking and quoting the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit says or spoke.
So the irony is that people of the Word are often accused of being people that separate themselves from the Holy Spirit. And we think about this. What a gift the Spirit is and what a gift the Word is! All through Scripture, the Spirit testifies to the value of this book. Psalm 119 is just classic to explain, what the Spirit thinks of this book. Read Psalm 119. This book is a treasure from the Spirit and is proclaimed as a treasure by the Spirit. We tried to say on Sunday that a step toward the Word is a step toward the Spirit. So if we’re truly engaging in the Word by faith, then we’re moving toward the Spirit. We’re saying, “Spirit, we need you to speak to us.” And a step toward the Spirit is a step toward the Word. It’s this amazing gift that the Spirit of God produced so that we would have an absolute concrete record of God’s revelation that is not messed up by the human instruments that are so fallible and flawed.
Josh: I think we’re probably coming to the end, here. But you said if we engage with the Word by faith. So I think about the Pharisees. They knew the Bible that they had at that point. They knew the Scriptures. Obviously they didn’t understand them truly and they didn’t receive them by faith. They weren’t seeing the glory of Christ right in front of them. They were misinterpreting and adding to and taking away from, and yet, they read the Bible. They knew the Bible. But you said if we engage by faith. So what do you say to the Christian, to the follower of Christ who says, “I understand this, but I feel discouraged, especially during this season. I feel discouraged. I feel heavy. I feel distant from God. I don’t feel like I’m engaging with God and the Holy Spirit. I don’t really know abiding, and all this language of love and joy just feel distant. Yet, here I am. You’re telling me I’m just supposed to read the Bible? I feel like I read the Bible and not much happens.” So what would you say to the person who says, “Am I just supposed to read the Bible more? Is that really the answer? And what is this idea of you saying to engage by faith? What’s the difference between just reading the Bible? It’s not helping.”
Ritch: Whether it’s reading the Bible or it’s hearing the Word through messages, whether Sunday School teachers, pastors, teachers, Jesus said in the parable of the soils that there are four ways to receive the Word, which is the Word of God. It’s the Word produced by the Spirit as He carried these holy men of old along as they wrote, so that we would have a sure Word or record that is established forever in heaven. By the way, Jesus didn’t go up to the mountain to receive sort of this mystical personal revelation from the Father. He had a relationship with the Father. But His words show us how dependent He was upon the Scriptures. Jesus, the Son of God, who is God, and this is the mystery of His sort of self-limitation while He was walking this earth. But He relied upon the Scriptures to minister to others, to fight temptation, to understand, we’ll say, and to grow in favor with God and man. So that’s kind of remarkable! But to your question, go ahead and ask the question again. I’m really sorry about that. (Laughter!)
Josh: Just for the practical person who is saying, “I read the Bible and I don’t feel like a lot happens.” And maybe to touch on these movements, “people feel like they’re having all this love and here I am. I’m just reading the Bible and I don’t feel like anything is happening.”
Ritch: So here’s the testimony of Scripture from Jesus and from the Holy Spirit in the Word itself. This is the word of life. Jesus calls it seed. It’s like seed that is planted in soil. When it hits good soil, it’s always going to produce fruit. Always! It never hits good soil and dies. So if I’m reading the Bible and it seems like the Bible is dying, I have to confront myself. It’s not the fault of the Word. That’s where Satan comes along and says the Word is not powerful. That’s the hard heart that picks it up and it’s not powerful. Or Satan comes along and says to just receive this emotionally, but not by faith. So it’s not where you’re receiving it implanted in your soul, driving past those sins through repentance. Faith begins with repentance and then expresses a dependence upward and a trust in God to do a work. Then Satan also keeps the Word through these thorns; the pleasures of this world, the concerns of this world, the love of riches. But whenever the Word hits good soil, it will produce a fruit. That’s where I think again, we as Christians, when we receive the Word and we get into what we call a “dry time,” our fleshly tendency is to look to God and say, “God, you’ve done something wrong. You’re not doing something for me.” And what the Word is, it comes back to us and says, no. You need to humble yourself. You need to find out what it is about yourself that’s not receiving the Word. Because the moment we do, there is guaranteed life. Absolute 100%! There are no dead seeds in the Bible.
Josh: It’s helpful. I think it’s a common place people find themselves. And I think it would be encouraging to think about that practically a little bit more.
Ritch: And one more caveat to that. Don’t evaluate this emotionally. I talked to a charismatic friend recently and he was asking me what I was receiving from God and then I was asking him what he was receiving from God. He said, “Well, I’m not hearing from God very much.” I asked him: Is there ever a time where God is speaking to you, where you’re not emotionally kind of uplifted by it? He said, “Well, I don’t know.” It sort of caused a pause because he has gotten used to, this friend who is a precious brother in Christ, has gotten used to evaluating whether he’s receiving anything from the Word on the basis of an emotional uplift. It is possible to be depressed and receive the Word and have life. That life looks different when you’re not depressed, but it’s life. In other words, I find strength here. I find strength to persevere. I find strength to have perspective that’s different. There is life going on here that is helping me glorify God while I’m in pain, while I’m depressed, while I’m, you know. So I would say don’t evaluate whether there is fruit on the basis of your emotion. Evaluate on the basis of whether you are becoming more like Jesus who suffered and grieved. He sweat drops of blood and cried out in agony, whether you’re like Jesus in your suffering and whether or not you’re being brought to the sufficiency of Jesus and you’re having a greater confidence. God is sufficient through Christ.
Josh: Take that imagery of the seed. There is a sense in which in our culture, we’re so ingrained about the immediacy of the effect. When we think about a seed being planted, it’s something that you meditate on, which is often what we’re told to do with Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. We’re supposed to receive this, meditate. Let it sit and ponder it and consider it. That seed, sometimes it’s planted just for a moment. You read a verse and you think, “Oh, I didn’t feel an emotional impact.” Yet, God can use it later on in the day as you think about it. It starts to take root. I guess I think about James when he says to receive the implanted Word with meekness, and there is that openness.
I guess one thing that we think about and we’re over our time here. It’s that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian is not merely to comfort. There’s a feeling that we love about comfort of the Holy Spirit. But we see when we look at the book of Acts, He does the work of conviction and that sometimes when we come in, that meekness is so important. James says the Word is like a mirror that shows us and it’s convicting and it’s hard. And actually, we could feel bad rather than, “Oh man! I’m really excited!” But it helps us to see ourselves, which yes, is convicting. But then also through repentance and faith and trust in Christ in which He is exalted, and the emotion is not about us being excited about ourselves, but about us being excited about Jesus. The Holy Spirit constantly is taking the spotlight off of us and onto Christ. Sometimes we’re in the way. And with meekness, receiving that Word, it helps us to taste our need for Christ and the glory of Christ. There is a lot that is going on that I think we tend to really superficially glance over when it comes to our walk with Christ and the Holy Spirit really, through the Word. It would be a good study and helpful for us to grow in true Christian maturity.
Ritch: That’s correct. What a great gift God has given us when He gave us His Spirit!
Josh: Would you mind closing us in prayer and then we’ll have a time of prayer for anyone who wants to who is here with us.
Ritch: Absolutely! Father in heaven, we pray that we would reflect Christ in all our words, our thoughts, our actions, and Father, that your Spirit would be at work in us. Lord, we know that your Word is living. It’s active. It’s sharper than a two-edged sword. It helps us discern the thoughts that we have, the emotions we have. Lord, your Word is a light to our path, a lamp to our feet so that we’re never in darkness. Lord, your Word is like food. It’s like manna. It feeds us so that we won’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from your mouth. Thank you Father, that your Spirit indwells us. He’s the one who gave us the Word, Father, and He’s the one that illumines our minds and hearts so that we can understand it and receive it. Lord, I pray that you would quicken us all to have faith, strong faith, Lord. I pray that every time we engage with you in worship, which is really every day that we engage by faith, help us to be that kind of people. It’s in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.