There Is Only One Way To Become Better
We cannot muster up love for God’s Word, the Divine Blueprint for being and becoming beautifully and fully human, nor can we sustainably surrender to it, on our own.
We need help from beyond ourselves.
Before we can come alive as life-giving disciples of Jesus, there must be divine action—a kind that we are unable to manage or control—that occurs for God’s word and ways to become sweet and compelling to us, versus obligatory and performative. In other words, we need to be acted on from the outside in order for our insides to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
We know that God’s voice contains immense power. His spoken word brought dead people back to life (John 11:1-44), stilled violent storms at sea (Mark 4:35-41), sent evil spirits to their demise (Luke 8:26-39), and caused water and earth and sky and galaxies to come into being (Genesis 1:1-31).
And yet, God’s breathed-out Word will have zero impact upon us, or perhaps even an adverse impact (through a self-righteous moralism on the one hand, or a self-determined secularism on the other) until God breathes life into us. As a rocket cannot launch and a car cannot travel without an igniting force to fire up its engine, a Christian cannot be transformed by the Bible without the prerequisite new birth through the Holy Spirit:
Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, s/he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
The word of God in itself and by itself is powerless to change us. Change only happens when the igniting power of the Holy Spirit, by and with the word of God, overtakes the heart and the mind and the will.
What was true of Jesus’ disciples is also true of us: Before we can do anything to love God or neighbor, we must receive a power from on high (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:1-13). So our prayers must include the humble request that God “take not” his Holy Spirit from us (Psalm 51:11), and instead give us the Holy Spirit in increasing measure (2 Kings 2:9; Luke 11:13).
The filling of the Spirit creates in us a new posture toward the Bible. Rather than being bored and unmoved by it, we become drawn to it. Rather than being perplexed by it, we become driven with desire to know and understand more deeply. In fact, a sure sign that we have been filled with the Holy Spirit is the presence of a new affection and thirst for Scripture. God promises his people a new heart or spiritual “flesh” to animate our otherwise dead spiritual “bones” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ephesians 2:1-10).
In the words of the great theologian, Benjamin B. Warfield:
“The Holy Spirit, when applying the benefits of Christ’s redemption, saving men from the guilt and dominion of sin, works by and with the Word of God (emphasis mine); and produces a supernatural experience not only congruous to the Word, but inexplicable and impossible, unless the Bible be God’s Word…the testimony of the Church awakens great reverence for the Scripture, and while the traits of Scripture show it to be the Word of God…The Holy Spirit, the indwelling God, by and with the Word, creates an experience conformed to the Word, and so, honoring and confirming it, testifies that it is the Word of God.”
As the Holy Spirit takes residence in our hearts by faith, we humbly and even joyfully accept that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). We become able and even desirous to do hard things in order to become and remain whole, saying no to life-diminishing appetites in favor of more life-giving ones that come from God.
The Bible, as opposed to our “gut”—or as well our opinions, experiences, and wishes—starts to have the final say about things that are true, beautiful, and praiseworthy for us.
Where Scripture affirms us and where it contradicts us, where Scripture delights us and where it offends us, where Scripture comforts us and where it stings us, where Scripture clarifies and where it confuses us, every word, sentence, and paragraph is revered as God’s direct and shaping authority—relevant to all people of all cultures and all times.
We creatures are not meant to censor our Creator’s words; his words are meant to censor us.
We creatures are not meant to revise our Creator’s insights; his insights are meant to revise us.
We creatures are not meant to re-align our Creator’s statutes to our sensibilities; his statutes are meant to re-align us to his.
We are not meant to improve upon his Word; his Word is meant to improve upon us.
When the Holy Spirit persuades our hearts of these things, the authority of the whole Christ, the whole Scripture, the whole time becomes our guiding principle. This is when the Bible becomes to us “the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
We must first be acted upon. And when we are, our faith is ignited into action.
And when it does, there is a side effect worth noting. We become healthier and happier in the process.
May it be so, from this time forth and forevermore.
Election by predestination is a concept introduced by John Calvin 1500 years after the death of Christ, it is not a New Testament concept. John 3:16 explicitly says that “whosoever beleveth (belief-a conscious belief, an act of the will) in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life. WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH, Scott. There is no secret guest list made up before the foundations of the world. Presbyterians make up only 10:% of Christians so this is at best a minority opinion not shared by the majority of Christians.
Seems your comment here directly negates Ephesians 1:4, almost verbatim. While there are great mysteries around the discussion divine sovereignty and human responsibility, to call out words directly from Scripture and say that they are not true, or a “concept introduced by John Calvin” seems neither right nor safe…not to mention historically uninformed.
Said differently, the word of God in itself and by itself is powerless to change us. Change only happens when the igniting power of the Holy Spirit, by and with the word of God, overtakes the heart and the mind and the will.
And after 24 years of faithful commitment, in all the ways I know, I don’t believe this has happened to me, or to a whole lot of others in my church! And I’m desperate for it! So now what? What % in the church really are ‘born again?’ It’s not easy when u have given all to read these words, and I believe these words are true. So, again, now what? What does Almighty God do with my prayers?What does He do He do with my giving? Has He stolen from me? What about ALL the times I went forward to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Am I brainwashed? Why did God let the Branch Davidions suffer so horribly? Its God in our circumstances, really? Or should we not confuse God and life? For sure I cannot ever return to the World!
The only place I feel ‘right’ is in the Sanctuary. That says something to me.
One thing is sure … I have had something to pursue for 24 years!
I agree with you, Patrick. While I am desperate for the change, I do not think “the igniting power of the Holy Spirit, by and with the word of God, [has] overtake[n] [my] heart and [my] mind and [my] will.”
Would love to hear Scott’s thoughts on this.
When I feel distant from God in His Word, it’s usually a sign to me that I need to confess my sins, lay my soul vulnerable at His feet, repent that I may believe again the Good News. If I don’t know or can’t see my sins, I pray that God will reveal them to me.
I agree with Anaheim and have the same questions…
But what about the testimonies of people I’ve read and heard from far off lands who were unbelievers and read the Bible for the first time and it immediately transformed them and they became believers as a result???
There are MANY of these testimonies.
Your blog seems to contradict this spiritual phenomenon happening so often these days.
I’m not being critical, I just want to understand.
And I want to feel a hunger and desire and love for the Scriptures that I have heard some others have.
But I don’t.
Couldn’t agree more with Patrick and Candace It is a terrible place to be found. I am glad that I am not alone but Would so appreciate hearing your thoughts and wisdom here, scott. What is the answer ? Many need to hear a good word
I know now it’s five years later in 2022 but as I read the responses to Scott’s original post I felt sad that perhaps folks misunderstood and now were doubting their faith. If people today are reading this post please understand that it is very easily possible to believe in Jesus yet not understand or be taught about the Holy Spirit. That does not make you suddenly unsaved it’s just means you’re not truly experience him in his fullness. It’s not a magical thing… The infilling of the Holy Spirit creates a personal relationship with Jesus that is closer than anything you can experience with another human being. This occurs upon belief like it says below in The excerpt from Acts chapter 8. Notice In the scripture below Philip is being moved by the Holy Spirit to do what God asks him to do. The way my pastor recently described it is that nothing is mundane when you are recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit in you. Then when you are truly asking to be Jesus’s hands and feet, And open to do what God asks you to do, the Holy Spirit in you creates an insatiable hunger for scripture, which is the living (Holy Spirit breathed) word of God, from OT to NT as an entire unified whole.
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized? (Some manuscripts include vs 37: “if you believe with all your heart you may.” The Eunuch answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God”) And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”
Acts 8:26-36, 38-40 NIV
I enjoy reading Saul’s articles, for the most part. Thanks for posting those thoughts. So now, if Mr. Browning’s belief of John 3:16, whosoever believers, negates Ephesians1:4 then Mr. Saul’s belief, election by choice, negates John 3:16. So who is right or what should I believe. Ah, why not just throw the Bible away and come up with our own plan… Actually, if I believe in predestination why even read the Bible or study anything for that matter? God planned it all out before creation and you and I have no choice. We can’t change the mind of God! The Book is closed and sealed and we have to wait until judgement to find out who is saved and who isn’t. Why does Jesus command us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptize converts , etc. if humanity has no choice anyhow. It would seem to an “onlooker”, unsaved person, that the Bible is full of contradictions and Satan would have us all believe that but is it really? Sure there are things that are hard to understand. Peter acknowledges the same (2 Pe. 3:16) but he also says why. It’s because they are unlearned and unstable… Whoa! None of us would come under that status , surely not! At least we wouldn’t confess it. We do well to remember that scripture interprets scripture. Scripture never contradicts itself. We should look at context as well. We must also remember that God is omniscient, all knowing. He knows the end from the beginning, actually, even before the beginning. For that reason, and that reason only, he could put my name, your name, and every other name, into the Book of Life. He did not first write in the names and decided that these people I’m going to save and for the rest, well, that’s just too bad. We were created free moral agents, that is, with the capacity to choose, and not as puppets… Paul is writing to the Ephesian people who I believe were a Gentile people and not of Jewish lineage. Going back to the Old Testament we find God choosing the descendants of Abraham and the promised seed, Isaac, to be his people. From then on we have many many prophesies of the calling in, or bringing in and adoption (Ro. 8:15) of the Gentile people as his people. Could Paul then be saying that God in his omniscience and his love for created mankind made a way for a people, the gentiles, who were not a people, because they were not of Abrahamic descent, to be a people? I believe so! Ro. 11 is also an important aspect of this discussion where it speaks of being graffed in. The Israelites who rejected the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus as the Messiah and likens them to branches that were broken off (individually) and the gentiles being graffed in. I think we’re aware of the idea floating out there of once saved always saved. Ro. 11:21 refutes that belief- For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. And one last reference, Ro. 2:28-29. For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly;neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter… God bless!
Does Jesus’ parable about the seeds having different effect this discussion? I would like to hear people’s thoughts. Am I one who has heard and accepted long ago but drifted? That’s not one of the effects that I see in the parable. Are the people of other lands who hear and immediately accept those who drift away quickly as the parable suggests? I think the parable must not be read to fit every circumstance. Tom