Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: In Step with the Spirit
Last year as the Italy mission trip approached, I tried picking up enough Italian to get by. I downloaded an app and absorbed as much as I could. I aced level after level on the app and soon was ranked as 25% or so fluent in Italian. I thought I had it in the bag, and was ready for the trip.
Then I arrived, and tried to order my first coffee at a cafe.
The expression on the waiter’s face was one of polite confusion. It seemingly didn’t even register with him as Italian, and that it must have been some other foreign language. Embarrased, I switched to English and made my order. While I knew the mechanics and vocabulary of Italian, my lack of experience and immersion led to my ultimate failure when it came to living it out.
If I am honest with myself, I have made the same mistake in regards to the Holy Spirit, and the lesson is simple: intellectual knowledge is no substitute for experience.
As Phil mentioned in his blog a few weeks ago, the role of the Spirit is to guide, control, lead, guide, advocate, convict, teach, comfort, encourage, counsel, give peace and help to pray. But simply knowing these roles on an intellectual level will leave our experience of God lacking.
In the New Testament, both the narrative surrounding experiences with the Holy Spirit and the prescriptive passages about the Holy Spirit use language that is very relational in nature. One passage that highlights this is Galatians 5. In verse 16 we are told, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” followed later by verse 25 which says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Unfortunately, this passage is one that is glossed over by us as Christians, and we mistakenly view it as simply flowery description of a theological concept. In fact, most of us skip over this language and latch on to the list of don’ts (verse 19-21) and do’s (verse 22).
This is where our experience of Christianity must move beyond merely an intellectual exercise. Only through daily walking with God, allowing Him to move and speak to us in all the ways outlined in Scripture, will we truly experience the freedom that is inherent in the Gospel. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But here’s the scary thing: we can accomplish much that has the appearance Christianity in our own ability.
That is why our doctrine of the Holy Spirit cannot exclude the need for the real experience of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I suggest that the most important piece of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is that He is to be experienced and not merely understood. We are called to walk in the Spirit.
So what does this look like? How can we walk with God?
Again, I think our modern Christian expression can become pragmatic too quickly. We tell each other to “spend time in the Word”, “pray at all times”, “attend x, y, or z church event” and many other straightforward action steps. While these are valuable disciplines and steps to take, we will never be able to capture the Holy Spirit through our own effort or ritual. He moves and speaks as He wishes.
And that is the first step to walking with the Spirit. Are we truly willing to walk where He guides and leads, or are we trying to craft our faith in our own image? Are we willing to dive into our own hearts, pains, and hang-ups and let Him speak into them? Are we willing to let him nudge us out of our comfort zone and into the lives of others? Are we willing to let Him guide us beyond our own expectations into the depth and life He has for us? Will we truly walk with Him?
It sounds like a simple question, but a brief survey of the book of Acts tells us that when the church walks with the Spirit, we are not only released into the fullness of a Gospel community, but also exposed to persecution, pain and suffering. When the Spirit leads, it is not to a place of complacency or comfort, but one to where we see God redeem and restore the hurting and lost around us.
But this collective experience must start at the individual level. We must resist the urge to live life in our own effort, of our own design, and be willing to stop and repeatedly check whether we are walking with, speaking with, communing with the Spirit. I encourage you each to pause in the next week and lay that question before the Spirit: “Am I walking with you, or am I walking at a pace of my own design?”