“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…” (Luke 4:18)
I head off to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) this weekend to speak on behalf of an overture that was written by our session and approved by our Presbytery. I have to admit, I am reluctant to go. This year the GA will be dealing with the same issues that have been before the church since before I was born. Every year it seems the church is asked to change its long-held standards for ordination, and this year is no different.
What seems most puzzling to me is how every side of every debate claims the endorsement of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. When the GA passes a monumental bill, its supporters will be quick to declare, “the Holy Spirit has spoken to the church.” Months later, when the Presbyteries have met and debated and prayed and eventually overturn the work of the GA, they too claim the Holy Spirit has spoken through the voice of the Presbytery.
You may not really care about any of this. But I would venture to guess that you have, at one point or another, wondered how the Holy Spirit was leading you. Should you go to this school or the other, should you spend your money on this or save it for later? How does the Holy Spirit guide and influence us?
Unfortunately, most of us have a wrong understanding of the Holy Spirit. We treat the Spirit of God as a medium, a fortune teller, or a Magic 8 Ball, shake Him up and He’ll tell you where to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I just had a ‘gut feeling’ that this is what the Spirit was leading me to do.” To borrow from Dickens, maybe it wasn’t the Spirit, but just a bad case of indigestion.
The real purpose of the revealing power and presence of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into a deeper knowledge and understanding of the grace of God in our savior Jesus Christ. God has clearly and authoritatively revealed himself through His word by the power of His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit continues to reveal God’s will through God’s word to us today. God cannot lie, so neither will God’s Spirit reveal to us anything that is contradictory to God’s word, nor lead us to decide anything that is contrary to His word. Rather, when the Spirit works, the gospel will be boldly proclaimed and God’s kingdom will advance.
J.I. Packer, in his book, 18 Words, writes the following about revelation:
Do you want to know God? Then… stop, look, and listen.
Stop trying to discover God by pursuing thoughts, fancies and feelings of your own, in disregard of God’s revelation. Our knowledge of Him and His revelation to us are correlative realities, you do not have the first without the second.
Look at what God has revealed. The Bible is the window through which you may look to see it, and there are many Christians and guide books that can help you to see what you are looking at and pick out what is important. As London is the centre of England, put first in their itinerary by tourists from overseas, wherever else they plan to go, so Jesus Christ the Lord, who died and is alive for evermore, is the centre of Scripture. Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let is distract you from Him.
Listen to what the Bible tells you about Him, and about our need of Him (which means your need of Him). The Bible in which you see him is itself God’s communication with you about Him. Learn from God about the Son of God; respond to all that you are shown. Do that, and one day you will be saying with Paul and many millions more, ‘God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). You will be saying with the once-blind man of Jerusalem, ‘One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see’ (John 9:25). You will know revelation in the only way that finally counts – namely, from the inside; and in so knowing it you will know God.
Be praying for the church as our General Assembly meets, be praying that we might learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern God’s will for His church, and may the gospel be boldly proclaimed and God’s kingdom advanced.