I once heard a Christian leader say, “Better to spend one hour on your knees pursuing the Holy Spirit than ten hours studying the Bible.” Tweetable, maybe, but very wrong. We must never separate what God has inseparably joined. Better to spend one hour on your knees pursuing the Holy Spirit through the Bible. Scripture invites you into a relationship that involves both Word and Spirit. Each is indispensable.
Every word of Scripture is a revealed Word of God, but God desires more than for us to learn the doctrines and obey the precepts. He desires relationship. Jesus did not just give us a book of things to believe and a list of tasks to execute. He called us to follow. To walk with him, interact with him, and live in his power. And anything short of this is not true Christian discipleship.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, British pastor of a previous generation, said,
Those who have received the Holy Spirit are aware of a power dealing with them and working in them. A disturbance, something, someone interfering in our lives. We are going along, and suddenly we are arrested and pulled up, and we find ourselves different. That is the beginning; that is what always happens when the Holy Ghost begins to work in a human being. There is a disturbance, an interruption to the normal ordinary tenor of life. There is something different, an awareness of being dealt with—I cannot put it better; that is the essence of the Holy Spirit dealing with us.
(Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, 386)
Lloyd-Jones wasn’t what you would call a charismatic. He went deep went it came to the Bible. But he recognized that there is a profound and inseparable unity between biblical depth and Spirit-filled living. By going deep into the gospel you become alive in the Spirit. As he often said, “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them doctrine is not enough!”
Those of us who aren’t in “charismatic” circles need to reckon with the reality of the Holy Spirit. Our churches need to pursue a real experience with the Spirit. I’m not sure we can overstate the importance of this, because the Holy Spirit multiplies the power of God available to the church.
In John 14:12, Jesus would even say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” Greater works than Jesus? Have any of us ever preached with greater clarity, healed the sick with greater power, or prayed with greater compassion … than Jesus?
Our works are greater in two ways. The first is that while Jesus’ earthly miracles illustrated his power to save from sin, the greatest miracle of all is conversion from death to life. Jesus fed 5,000 to show he was the all-satisfying bread of life. He walked on water to show that he was sovereign over all dimensions of the believer’s life. Nik Ripken tells of Russian believers who are currently seeing miraculous signs that would rival anything in the book of Acts. But these believers only use the word “miracle” to refer to conversion, because amazing acts of deliverance pale in comparison to what God does when he draws someone to himself. When we preach the gospel and sinners believe, we are doing the greater work: Jesus’ miracles were only signs, and we get to participate in what those signs pointed to!
The second way that our works are “greater” than Jesus’ is that they are greater in their range. When Jesus was on earth, the Holy Spirit focused his ministry in and through Jesus. But now he is on every believer, and the collective impact, Jesus says, of ordinary Christians filled with the Spirit would be greater than if even he himself stayed to lead the church.
In Acts 1:1, Luke says that in his former book—the Gospel of Luke—he “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1). The implication is that Acts records what Jesus continues to do, through his church. It’s not that in the Gospels Jesus worked, and now we, in his absence, work for him; during his incarnation Jesus worked through his earthly body and now he works through the entirety of his earthly body, the church.
If we want to see God’s power in our cities, we need to teach our people to listen for the Holy Spirit, to closely follow his guidance, the way the Apostles did—not simply to think up a bunch of good ideas for ministry, but to tune their hearts to hear a few God-ideas.
Now, whenever I start to talk this way, someone inevitably says, “Well, you know, we can’t use Acts as a pattern for our time. Things are so much different now.” And I understand that Acts represents a unique period of apostolic history. But you can’t convince me that the only book God gave us with examples of how the church operates is filled with experiences that have literally nothing in common with our own. The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts. In 36 of those appearances he is speaking. Has he ceased moving and guiding today? As John Newton said, “Is it really true that that which the early church so depended on—the leadership of the Spirit—is irrelevant to us today?” (“Letter IV: Communion with God,” in Letters of John Newton, 29)
Here’s a question I think every pastor would be wise to consider: do our people see ministry as something they are doing for God, or something God does through them as they yield themselves to him? Do they know what it means to follow him, to move in his power? And do they know how to distinguish his leadership from superstition, whim, or heartburn?
The presence of the Holy Spirit was the key to the early church’s explosive growth. He is the key to awakening in our generation, too. As the Apostle Paul says, it’s not Christ beside us nor Christ before us, but Christ in us, that is our hope of glory.