Skip to content

the holy spirit and god’s commandments

June 14, 2011

There is struggle in the Christian life, to be sure. But the struggle is to be carried on, not in an atmosphere of constant defeat, but in an atmosphere of victory.

-Anthony Hoekema, A Christian Looks at Himself

The Holy Spirit is often the most misunderstood member of the Trinity. When I was a brand new Christian, it was commonplace in my community to come forward at the end of a worship service to have the pastor or some other leader lay their hands upon your head. If the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully enough, you were literally knocked over backwards.

Though I love the zeal for the Lord present in my charismatic roots, I think that kind of emphasis can prevent us from seeing what the Holy Spirit is actually doing in our midst.

The Holy Spirit is indeed powerful. But in the New Testament, the Spirit’s strength is seen primarily through the changing of human hearts. Think about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. When we speak of fruit, we mean something that is the result of our work (“That beautiful flower bed is the fruit of many, many hours of my labor.”) What is the fruit of the Spirit’s labor?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. The Spirit’s work has everything to do with what kind of people we are becoming.

Another way of putting it is this: The Spirit takes hearts that are hard towards God and His commandments and makes them soft (Ezekiel 36:26). The Spirit changes us into people who are able to say with David, “Direct me, O Lord, in the path of your commands, for there I find your delight.” (Psalm 119:35) Through the Spirit’s work, we begin to love God’s ways and walk in them.

This is profoundly illustrated in the book of Acts. When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, there were many spectacular things that happened. There were “tongues of fire” that were visible to the people present (commentators still aren’t sure what this is talking about, but it was no doubt something to see). Moreover, people began to speak languages that they did not know before. The apostles were also able to perform miraculous healings. It was a powerful event.

But in Acts 4, Luke gives us a different emphasis. In this passage, he is summarizing the effects of the Spirit being poured out. Luke writes about the church being united (that is no small feat). Furthermore, people were sharing their money in substantial portions. In fact, people were so generous that “there were no needy persons among them.” When church people get along and start sharing their money with one another, you know something significant is happening.

What is telling about Luke’s account is that it is presented as evidence that God’s commandments were beginning to be fulfilled. Acts 4 is a picture of the kind of lives God’s people were called to live in Deuteronomy 15 (“Be open-handed to your poor brother.”) In other words, the Holy Spirit had come in and was beginning to empower people to obey God’s laws from the heart.

This means for the Christian, you are not powerless to obey God’s commandments. You have the Holy Spirit inside of you. The Spirit makes heart-felt obedience to God possible. Are there struggles and failings in this obedience? Absolutely. But, as Hoekema reminds us, the battle is waged in at atmosphere of victory. It is an atmosphere of victory because of the Spirit’s presence.

Happy Pentecost Season.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: