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.