I attended a major Church of Christ-affiliated college. One reason I chose a church school was to learn about the Holy Spirit. At that age I figured that I knew just about all the Bible that there was to know, but the Holy Spirit continued to trouble me. The Pentecostal movement was in fun swing at the time, and many Churches of Christ had split over the issue. I was sure that this fine school would be the place to learn the answers.
Early on, I signed up for a class in I and 2 Corinthians. The professor had a long and respected pedigree within the Churches, and I was anxious to learn about the Spirit’s gifts, a major theme of 1 Corinthians 14.
Some weeks later we finally got to chapter 14. We were ready to learn what the Bible says about tongues, prophecy, interpretation, and such. These were all timely and much-needed topics. The teacher approached the lectern bent low, as though burdened by the weight of great knowledge. He opened his Bible and turned to the chapter. He looked up, and with the utmost gravity announced, “1 Corinthians 14 is a very difficult chapter, and I have never really understood it, and I don’t know anybody who does. We will skip it.”
For a while, I attended a Sunday School class taught by a professor at my college. He was a very, very serious person. He was very dedicated to his teaching, but he just had no sense of humor.
We were studying James. Eventually we came to the passage that suggests that the sick of the congregation should ask the elders to pour oil on their heads to be healed. There were about ten minutes left in the class. He read the verse and saw two hands raised by two visitors.
The first visitor announced that he had had epilepsy and had been cured by exactly this procedure. The other visitor said that he had had severe diabetes and had also been cured this way. (Both visitors looked rather ill, in fact.) Our teacher opened his mouth to speak—and nothing came out. We waited and waited. After several minutes of silence, he dismissed class early.
This book is not really about the Holy Spirit; it is about grace. But I have learned from experience that grace cannot be thoroughly understood without first having an understanding of the Holy Spirit. The two subjects are completely intertwined, and a false understanding of the Holy Spirit will inevitably result in a false understanding of grace.
A number of excellent books on the Spirit have been published.1 I will not try to replow the same ground. Moreover, the present book is not intended to deal with Pentecostalism, faith healing, speaking in tongues, and the like. Rather, I want to try to reach a consensus as to the correct understanding of the Spirit. We often spend time disproving the beliefs of others without taking time to ask what we should believe. Thus, the Churches of Christ as a whole have squarely rejected Pentecostalism but cannot even reach agreement as to whether the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian. I do not believe that the Spirit grants special revelation today, allows the performance of miracles (in the Biblical sense of a “wonder”), or empowers us to speak in tongues. But we must leave these questions for another day.
Many of those who believe the Spirit works only through the Word would say that the Spirit indwells all Christians, but they would mean that the Spirit indwells representatively through the Word. When others say the Holy Spirit indwells a Christian, they mean that the Holy Spirit has a special, personal, effective relationship with the individual Christian that does not exist for non-Christians. The relationship is realized and felt in the Christian’s heart and mind,and thus is an internal, intimate, life-changing relationship—an actual indwelling. We will see whether the Bible uses the term in the same sense. The question is fundamentally one of faith,and the only authority in this matter is the Bible.
effect that the Holy Spirit and the Word must be the same since they do the same things. Lists have been compiled by which it is shown that the Bible attributes the same roles to the Word and the Spirit. Thus, it is argued, they are indistinguishable.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another
Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot
accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know
him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
B. John 3
John’s Gospel is an especially important source of information about the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is a major theme of this book. For example, when Jesus is approached by Nicodemus, Jesus tells him about the nature of the new birth:
kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives
birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be
surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again: The wind blows
wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it
comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Those born of the flesh have the nature of the flesh. Those born of the Spirit have the nature of
When you are born again, you are born of the Spirit and you become a Spiritual being.
The Spirit affects your very nature, just as being born of the flesh defined your nature as a fleshly being.
Next, note this passage from 2 Corinthians:
(2 Cor. 3:3)
ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on
tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
If the Spirit operates only through the Word, how can Paul say that the Corinthians are a
letter written with the Spirit and “not with ink”?
(2 Cor. 3:4-6)
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves,
but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as
ministers of a new covenant not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter
kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul now goes much further and tells the Corinthians that there is a very big difference between God’s Word acting alone and God’s Spirit—the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. The new covenant, the gospel, is “of the Spirit,” and it is not “of the letter.”
Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do
not associate with Samaritans.)
a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is
deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our
father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also
his sons and his flocks and herds?”
whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I
give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
- Jesus gives it.
- Once you’ve received it, you never thirst for it again.
- It creates a “spring” within the recipient.
- This spring produces eternal life in the recipient.
He is not discussing salvation, but something that produces salvation from within the Christian. Jesus is discussing the indwelling Spirit.
Any doubt on this point is resolved in John 7:
(John 7:37-39) On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood
and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and
drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of
living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom
those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit
had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John tells us that, when Jesus spoke of living water, he was speaking of the coming Spirit. Jesus prophesied that following his glorification (his return to heaven) the Spirit would be received by all who believe in him. The promise is to “anyone” who is thirsty, not just those on whom hands might be laid by an apostle. The promise is to “[w]hoever believes in me.” And the Holy Spirit “will flow from within” the believer.
Could Jesus have been speaking about the Word? Was the Word not received until Jesus was glorified? Do Christians receive the Word when they are saved? Don’t they “hear” the Word and receive it before they believe, and believe before they are saved? Jesus said that this Living Water would come to those who have already believed.
Could Jesus have been talking to the Samaritan woman about the Word? Does the Word flow from within the believer? Christians never thirst for Living Water because they already have it. Do you thirst for the Word? You should. We all need more knowledge of God’s Word and we are never filled. But once we have the Spirit, we need never receive it again.
This tells us what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians when he said that the Spirit gives life. The Holy Spirit is Living Water. This water “wells up” from within the Christian to give “eternal life” for which the Christian “will never thirst again.” The Spirit does indeed give life—eternal life. Moreover, this life giving occurs not just at baptism, but throughout the life of the Christian. Jesus gives his followers, not a drink of life-giving water, but a spring that never runs dry.
E. Romans 7 and 8
But 2 Corinthians not only tells us that the Spirit gives life, it also says that the “letter” kills. How can this be?
(Rom. 7:4-8) So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body
of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from
the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were
controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law
were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death ... . What shall
we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have
known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known
what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin,
seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me
every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.
Paul tells us that before we were saved, we were controlled by our sinful nature. Even though we knew and tried to obey God’s law, we failed. Moreover, the prohibitions themselves made the sins all the more tempting, and we sinned all the more. The result of our efforts was death. God’s revelation of his will for man through the law produced only frustration and more sin.
(Rom. 7:6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been
released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and
not in the old way of the written code.
The solution is not a better law. It is the Spirit. It’s not rules; it’s a relationship. This is explained in more detail in chapter 8:
(Rom. 8:1-2) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are
in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life
set me free from the law of sin and death.
Paul draws a contrast between the new and old covenants. The old covenant is “sin and death.” The new covenant is “the Spirit of life” and “no condemnation.”
(Rom. 8:3-4) For what the law was powerless to do in that it was
weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in
sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be
fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but
according to the Spirit.
If we live “according to the Spirit,” the requirements of the law are fully met in us. How do we live this way?
(Rom. 8:5) Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds
set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the
Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
Living according to the Spirit is determined not so much by actions as by motivation. The test is whether you desire the things the Spirit desires. Obviously, you will frequently fail to achieve all that you desire, but you will suffer no condemnation for such failures.
(Rom. 8:6-7) The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by
the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not
submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
The Spiritual mind is at peace because it is submissive to God’s will.
(Rom. 8:9a) You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by
the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.
If the Spirit lives in you, you are controlled by the Spirit. If you are not controlled by the Spirit, he does not live in you!
We should pause for a moment to recognize that “controlled by” is not in the original Greek. Rather, the Greek is more literally “of the Spirit” or “the Spirit’s.” Nonetheless, more than one translation has found this translation appropriate.
The thought is not a loss of free will so much as influence. When I say to my wife, “I am yours,” I mean that what matters to her matters to me. Her desires influence me—and do so profoundly. Just so, if we are the Spirit’s people, we very much want to do what the Spirit wants.
If you are not influenced by the Spirit, you do not have the Spirit, and if you do not have the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. Either the Spirit lives in you and influences you, or you are damned! There are no other possibilities. There are no Christians (saved persons) who don’t have the Spirit. There is no one who has the Spirit who is not saved.
(Rom. 8:10-11) But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin,
yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him
who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from
the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit,
who lives in you.
If the Spirit is living in you, you will be resurrected, just as Jesus was, “through his Spirit.” You must have the Spirit to be resurrected, because your resurrection will be received only through the Spirit living in you. No one who has the Spirit will fail to be resurrected.
to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the
sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the
misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the
Spirit of God are sons of God.
Being controlled or led by the Spirit means putting “to death the misdeeds of the body.” It simply means continuing in the repentance that allowed you to be saved in the first place. It means growing in Christ. It means being filled with the Spirit. It does not mean a loss of free will. We do the putting to death, but we do it by the Spirit. The Spirit encourages and empowers us, but ultimately we choose whether to follow the Spirit’s promptings.
(Rom. 8:15) For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again
to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Christians need not be afraid of condemnation. It is a possibility of course, but for a
growing, repenting Christian, the proper state of mind is life, peace, and a constant, comfortable, personal relationship with God.
(Rom. 8:16) The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
The Spirit’s testimony is not through miraculous signs but through the mind of the saved. The fact that a Christian’s mind is led by the Spirit will be evident from his thoughts, motivations, words, and deeds, and his salvation will be assured.
(Rom. 8:26) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
The Spirit not only gives life, but it makes up any deficiencies in our prayer life. We will study this chapter again.
F. The down payment
Three times Paul describes the indwelling as a seal, deposit, guaranty, or down payment.
Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit
in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Cor. 5:5) Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has
given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(Eph. 1:13) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the
word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were
marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit ... .
The word translated “deposit” is a commercial term meaning a down payment or payment of earnest money. When you buy a car, you sign a note, promising to pay for the car in the future, and you make a down payment, which is in cash. It would be a contradiction in terms and utter nonsense to sign a note for a down payment. A down payment is real and it is now.
God tells us that heaven is in our futures. This is God’s “note.” He says that he gives us the Spirit today as an immediate, first installment of our reward. The immediacy and reality of the Spirit give us confidence in the promises of God and assure us of his faithfulness. The Word is the promise. The Spirit is the cash in hand.
“Seal” is also a commercial term. Although seals have lost most of their legal significance in the United States, until recently a seal might be impressed on a legal document to make the promises contained in the document absolutely enforceable. No promise made under seal could be withdrawn or repudiated in court. This is much the same thought as in the term “guaranty.” God gives his personal guaranty that we are saved!
But a seal also means ownership. In the First Century, goods were often sealed before shipping to prove their ownership. God is telling not only us, but the whole world, that we are his.
Moreover, a seal represented authority. In ancient times, the keeper of the king’s seal could stamp documents with the seal, giving them the same authority as though the king himself signed them. In some regions, it has even been considered that you would be absolutely bound by a promise made under your seal even though the promise was made without your knowledge and sealed by someone who had stolen your seal!
God is telling us that he owns us, that the whole world can see his ownership, that he has authorized our salvation, and that we were saved by his authority.
Can God be talking about the Bible only? How can the Bible be a “seal”? Are Christians the only people who own and read Bibles? The seal is not the promise—it is the immediate, real assurance of the promise. The Bible makes the promise, and therefore cannot be the seal. The immediate, real, powerful, effective Spirit living and working in each of us is God’s seal.
G. The Glory and the Spirit
This lesson begins on top of Mt. Sinai. Moses was called by God to the top of the
mountain to receive the Law of Moses.
(Exo. 24:15-17) When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered
it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the
cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to
Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD
looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.
This is what the songs mean by “clouds of glory.” God’s glory is nothing so abstract as
his greatness or divinity. It is the visible, radiant, consuming fire demonstrating a special,
powerful presence of God himself.
Shortly thereafter, the Israelites built the tabernacle. The tabernacle was built during their
wanderings in the wilderness on their way out of Egypt as something of a portable temple. The
tabernacle was built in response to God’s command to Moses:
(Exo. 25:8) “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell
Although God is an omnipresent being, transcending all limitations of space and time,
God wanted a building built for him to dwell in.
God again spoke to Moses and described how he would dwell within the tabernacle and
how his presence would consecrate it:
(Exo. 29:42-43) “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be
made regularly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the LORD.
There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the
Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.”
“Glory” in Hebrew is Shekinah. When the tabernacle was finished, the Shekinah
(Exo. 40:33-35) Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle
and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so
Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the
Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of
the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Once again, we see the Glory as the bright, shining presence of God on earth. It was real
and present, so real that Moses himself could not approach it.
replace the tabernacle. As was true for the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant was to rest in the
Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place. When the temple was finished, the ark was brought in.
to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and
put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their
wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying
poles. … When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled
the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service
because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple. Then
Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud ...”
Although Solomon saw the real presence of God, he knew by inspiration that God was
not limited to the confines of the Holy of Holies. He prayed at the temple dedication ceremony
immediately after the Glory appeared,
(1 Kings 8:27) “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the
highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
Solomon did not deny that God dwelt in the temple, but he knew that this was not all of
Some years later, the Israelites had so fallen away from God that God permitted
Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Jerusalem. He did not destroy the temple during his first conquest,
but he took from Judah its brightest and most accomplished citizens. These men and women,
such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken to Babylon to be indoctrinated in
the Babylonian way.
God called Ezekiel to prophesy to these exiles and called Jeremiah to prophesy to those
left behind. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would again conquer a rebellious Jerusalem and that this time virtually all of Judea would be exiled to Babylon. Many Jews doubted that God
would permit the destruction of his temple and dwelling place, but Ezekiel prophesied that God’s
Glory would reluctantly leave the temple, symbolizing God’s rejection of the Jews. His highly
symbolic language shows the Glory gradually withdrawing from the temple and Jerusalem,
eventually resting on the Mount of Olives.
cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.
and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and
the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD. The sound of
the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court,
like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I
watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and
as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance to the
east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.
spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.
The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above
the mountain east of it.
Ezekiel next prophesied that one day the Glory would return to a new and better temple.
came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar
River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the LORD entered the temple
through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me
into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. While the
man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from
inside the temple. He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the
place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever."
However, history teaches us that when the Jews returned to Jerusalem under the
leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah and they rebuilt the temple, it was not filled with the Glory
when it was dedicated. The Jews were greatly disturbed by this and anxiously awaited the
coming of the Messiah, when they expected the Glory to return to God’s people.
Under the new covenant, each Christian and each congregation is a temple.
that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Cor. 6:19a) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy
Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built
together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Moreover, you can see that it is not the Glory that dwells in the new temple,
but the Spirit.
and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that
we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are
not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul says that each Christian has a “glory” within him that will be revealed at the end of
time. Read all of Romans 8. The chapter is written to tell Christians about the indwelling of the
Spirit, and this “Glory” clearly is the Spirit himself.
The identity of the Spirit and the Glory is made all the more evident in 1 Peter:
blessed, for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests on you.
This passage also recalls the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles at Pentecost. The
fire in Acts 2 suggests the Glory of the Old Testament.
This thought is given its fullest description in 2 Corinthians. Paul recalls that when Moses
went to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, he was in the presence of God’s Glory.
He returned to the Israelite camp with a brightly shining face. He covered his face with a veil.
covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the
Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was
engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could
not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though
it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
inferior because its Glory faded away.
(2 Cor. 3:9-11) If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much
more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was
glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if
what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of
that which lasts!
The Glory of the new covenant will never fade. Its Glory far exceeds the Glory of the old.
Therefore, the new covenant is superior to the old.
bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep
the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. … And
we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being
transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes
from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
“ever-increasing”! And both the Glory and the increase comes from the Lord, by means of the
God inspired the authors of the Bible to tell us that the Holy Spirit today represents the
Glory of the Old Testament. Moreover, our bodies represent the temple. And just as was true
under the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit literally dwells in the modern-day temple. This is not
symbolic or representational. It is as real and powerful as the coming of God’s Shekinah at the
dedications of the tabernacle and the temple.
God can dwell through his Glory both everywhere and especially in the Holy of Holies.
The Holy of Holies is where the people were redeemed from their sins on the Day of Atonement.
Thus, God had a special, powerful, redemptive, radiant presence in the temple. This is not
inconsistent with his omnipresence. It is consistent with his omnipotence. And as a Christian
grows, he is increasingly filled with the Spirit, and God’s Glory within him radiates all the
Review these passages, from 2 Corinthians, John, and Romans. Try to replace “Spirit” with “Word” in each case. The results are absurd!
not of the letter but of the Bible; for the letter kills, but the Bible gives life.
and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and
drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of
living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Bible, whom
those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Bible
had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
the Bible, if the Bible lives in you.... And if the Bible of him who raised
Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead
will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Bible, who lives in you.
(Rom. 8:26) In the same way, the Bible helps us in our weakness. We do
not know what we ought to pray for, but the Bible himself intercedes for
us with groans that words cannot express.
“Bible.” But there are very many verses dealing with the relationship of all Christians to God,
Jesus, and the Spirit that will not permit this treatment. Sure there are many things that the Spirit does that the Word does, but there are many important things that the Spirit does that the Word does not and cannot do. The Word does not save. The Spirit saves. The Word instructs us about the mind of the Spirit, but the Word neither leads, intercedes, gives life, nor resurrects.
I. Prayer and the Spirit
understanding prayer. But if your faith is strong enough for you to appreciate the power of
prayer, then you should be able to appreciate the Spirit’s power as well.
God with freedom and confidence ... . For this reason I kneel before the
Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your
hearts through faith.
was to be accomplished through the work of the Spirit in each Christian’s inner being, acting
may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long
and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that
surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the
fullness of God.
by this same Spiritual power:
all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all
generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
There is a power at work within all Christians—power through the Spirit in our inner
beings. And the Spirit empowers us beyond all we ask or imagine.
If Paul is writing about the Word, then he is saying that we are to read the Bible and
thereby learn about God’s love. But why is Paul praying? If God and the Spirit do nothing, and if
we come to our improved understanding through the power of diligent Bible study, we will learn
the same regardless of prayer. And if prayer does have an effect, then God has empowered us
through a means other than the Word!
If Paul is talking about the Word, then he is talking about something external to us that
we should make internal through study. But he says that what we need is already in us. If we
receive this power by learning from study, then how can we be empowered beyond all we ask or
imagine? If it depends entirely on human effort, how can the working of the Spirit exceed human capabilities?
If I learn about God’s love exclusively from the Bible, how can it surpass knowledge?
Under that theory, it’s only knowledge.
Paul says the same thing in Philippians:
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
How can we enjoy peace beyond our ability to understand if God only operates on our minds through our understanding? Why do we pray that God “guard, guide, and direct us”? Is this a scriptural prayer? How does God answer this prayer? Why pray that God give the preacher “a ready recollection” if God will not operate directly on his memory?
If God never operates directly on the heart of the Christian, then this guidance and direction must occur only through Bible study. If so, wouldn’t our prayer time be better spent reading our Bibles? After all, how can you believe that the prayer results in improved guidance and direction if God does nothing in response?
We in the Churches of Christ do not suppose that God grants a vision or verbatim prophecy in response to such a prayer. But we do believe that he empowers the Christian to be more open to his Word, to have a deeper, wider, and higher understanding of his revelation. And the empowerment is beyond the action of the Word itself—or else prayer means nothing.
When we pray that God heal a friend, we don’t think that our sick friend must read the Bible to be cured. If we ask God to guide the hands of the attending doctors, we don’t expect the doctors to read the Bible—we expect God to directly affect their hearts and minds to help them do a better job.
If God the Father can be active in history, help physicians heal our loved ones, improve our Bible study, and give preachers “a ready recollection”—all by direct operation on the hearts of people, why is there any problem with believing that sometimes God does these things through the agency of the Spirit?
with God? How does it affect how you feel about God’s presence?
2. Compare your body to the Old Testament temple. What are the similarities that allow
God to tell us that our bodies are temples?
3. Where do we worship God?
4. How is the presence of the Holy Spirit like the Glory that surrounds God in heaven?
5. How can your friends tell that God’s seal is on you?
6. How does the seal of the Spirit give you assurance of your salvation?
7. What makes living water “living”? Why is it like water?
8. How has John 4’s reference to living water been interpreted in your own experience? If
the interpretations you’ve heard in the past differ than the one offered in the book,
explain the justification for the contrary views.
9. How does the letter kill? Explain how the actions of the Spirit differ from the letter.