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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

‘Holy Spirit Only’ Christians

Jan 26, 2019

Sometimes Christians who seek to pass themselves off as the most spiritual and the most godly are often the most carnal and the most arrogant. That is, in an effort to impress others with just how spiritual they are, they can often end up in Pharisee-like pride and with an unteachable spirit.

We all have encountered such folks. The more hyper-spiritual they present themselves as, usually the more annoying, arrogant and fleshly they really are. Jesus of course dealt with such folks all the time. And what was it that Paul said? He spoke of those who ‘have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:5).

The desire to appear to be really spiritual to others can often be an indication of carnality. Yes, sometimes these folks may have good intentions. They may really think they are honouring the Lord and standing up for ‘pure’ Christianity or a ‘simple’ faith. But they may need a bit of humility here.

Let me provide you with an example of this which happened just recently. In order to encourage Christians to read their Bible every day, and to study it as well, I have done an entire series of “Bible Study Helps”. These are meant to help fellow Christians as they read through the entire Bible in a year – or at any preferred reading rate.

The 48 articles thus far penned can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/bible-study-tools/

A few hours ago I posted my latest piece in the series. Because I lumped Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy together in one article last year, I decided this year to do an entire, longer and more detailed article on each of these three Old Testament books.

Very soon after I posted a blurb and a link to my new piece on Leviticus on a few social media sites, this comment came in: “‘Bible Study Resources’ are other people’s interpretation. I’ll rely on the Holy Spirit for the interpretation, thank you.,”

Oh dear. I quickly replied as follows:

So you never read an English Bible (every single one was translated by mere men); you never go to church and listen to a sermon by mere men; you never read a book by any other Christians because they are mere men; and you never go to a Bible conference to hear great saints because they are mere men? Sorry, but you too are a mere man, so why should we pay any attention to anything you say? That is not being spiritual – that is being arrogant and foolish. For those who are interested, I speak to this in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/03/18/divine-or-human-teachers/

Let me unpack my reply a bit more, although the article I link to just above covers many of the bases. The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit works through people. God created us to be a Body in which we need every member found in it. There can be no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian.

We need each other, and God has given to the Body teachers. The Holy Spirit uses such teachers to help equip, teach and mature all of us believers. That is how God has chosen to work, and we should not look down on his chosen means of building up the Body and educating and equipping individual believers.

And as I have written elsewhere, it may sound spiritual to think we have a direct pipeline to God via the Holy Spirit and therefore have zero need of anyone else, but that too is bogus. Yes we all have the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit works in conjunction with others.

And one way to see that we need human teachers and helpers – working in alignment with the Holy Spirit – is to understand that we all see through a glass darkly, and none of us have all the truth or all the answers. As I wrote in an article on 20 reasons why we need theology (and therefore theologians):

Eighteen. If the Bible really is so clear and simple to understand, then presumably the meaning of the following passages and ideas should be apparent to all:
-What is baptism for the dead? 1 Cor. 15:29
-Should women teach? 1 Tim. 2:11-12
-Who are the spirits in prison that were preached to? 1 Pet. 3:19
-How do you explain the Trinity?
-How can people make free choices if God knows the future in every detail?
-Can God create a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?

I dare say that if just one of these passages were given to a group of twenty people, and they were told to go away and come back with the meaning, there may well be twenty different understandings and interpretations of the passage given. Being a Spirit-filled Christian, in other words, is no guarantee that one will always interpret Scripture properly. The tools of theology help us as we approach God’s word.
billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/26/in-defence-of-theology/

None of us have all the truth about the Bible and we can all learn from others. We all have so much more to understand and learn, and humility and teachability are key aspects of this learning process. Yes, even Bible study helps can be of use, such as recommended resources, books, devotionals, and even those dreaded commentaries!

And as I have also said before, if we are spiritual enough to listen to a pastor exegete, exposit, explain and apply Scripture on a Sunday morning, why can’t we be spiritual enough to read a good commentary, which basically does the exact same thing, but in written instead of oral form?

Yes the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, but the normal means of this is by using others, including the pastors and teachers he has given to the Body for the benefit of all. There is nothing wrong with learning from other believers, including from a sermon, a book, a conference, or a commentary.

Can we rely too much on human teachers, and not depend on the Holy Spirit? Of course. But going from one extreme to another helps no one. As always, we need the biblical balance here. Yes we all desperately need to learn to rely on and depend upon the Holy Spirit more and more.

But we also need to make use of the resources and tools God has given us to grow in our faith and our understanding of it. And those tools certainly include teachers and pastors, along with any books or videos they may produce. And yes commentaries too can be a part of all this.

Much of this discussion can be tied together from what I wrote in an earlier article on “Three Easy Steps to Become a Cultist or Heretic”. These steps are:
Step One: Be Proud
Step Two: Have an Unteachable Spirit
Step Three: Refuse to Learn from Others
billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/16/three-easy-steps-become-cultist-heretic/

So if you want to be easy pickings for the cults or find yourself easily sliding into heresy, just keep running with the mindset that says, I don’t want ‘other people’s interpretation. I’ll rely on the Holy Spirit for the interpretation, thank you.’

Closing thought

By the way: where do most of these rather confused believers pick up such unbiblical ideas in the first place? I would say that in most cases it did not just come to them out of nowhere. Most likely some mere man with his own interpretation told them that or taught them that! I rest my case.

[1244 words]

12 Responses to ‘Holy Spirit Only’ Christians

  • Love it! Love your reply!

  • Blessings to you Bill, Excellent Piece
    Spirit filled wisdom. How many times in my life have I, my wife or even whole family been nulling something over, in prayer. Searching for a sign a reason to proceed on not, then we meet a Pastor, a fellow believer- sometimes for the first time – and they unknowingly speak directly to your issue. Our most Glorious Saviour He works in so many ways & often through who we least expect .
    I spiritually benefit from your writing Bill,
    God Bless you. Mark Bryant

  • Hi, Bill,
    It has been my observation that due to all the voices shouting, “Christ is over here,” “Come out here and you will find the real Jesus”, that people are trying really hard to nail down a perfect doctrine and practice all with the intent of honoring God…this is a noble effort…but God, speaking through Paul, said that we see through a glass darkly…but one day face to face…He uses people who have the Holy Spirit to minister to us [how grateful I am for the wonderful teachers God has used in my life,,,some of them lived hundreds of years ago !] It makes me sad to see so many Christians fighting over our beautiful faith…I ran across an old hymn recently (can you believe somebody picked it apart and labeled it “error” !!!) ;
    There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea
    There’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty
    There is a welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good
    There’s a mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood
    For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind
    And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind
    If our love were but more simple we should take Him at His word
    And our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord…

  • Just an acknowledgement regarding God’s use of the Holy Spirit through others. I am on my second reading of Roman but not Catholic and I cannot imagine that I would have ever picked that book up had you not recommended it. Definitely the Holy Spirit at work through you and through the book. I expect I will read it a 3d time.

  • You would think that man would wonder if the Holy Spirit was telling you, the same as him, like, if he considers the Holy Spirit is telling him what a particular scripter means, then he must also believe you are being told too, of course, it may be he is a liberal denomination Christian, in which case they are above us mere fallen individuals who are in desperate need of a saviour, they, on the other hand, get continues revelation from God, as plainly, God would illuminate someone who doesn’t want to communicate with others wouldn’t he. I can only assume he sees those like me as gullible or lacking the Holy Spirit. It isn’t the case my Pastor, Dad or you tell me something and I just have to believe it. I have a responsibility to check via scriptures what I am being told fits in with the overall passage and with the Bible as a whole, of course, there are, many interpretations of various passages that one denomination will debate another denomination over, for instance, I would read 1 Tim 2:12 as Sarah you can’t be a Pastor of a church, no problem I don’t want to be a Pastor of a church anyway. I could claim, of course, that the Holy Spirit directed me to this outcome, there is some truth to that in that the Holy Spirit not only directs me to scriptures but had awakened me from my spiritual death so I now have an interest in what the Bible says since I have been inspired so to speak by the Holy Spirit, what that means (to me anyway) is that I have a hunger for scriptures now, however, I do not want to eat alone so-to-speak, not only that but I need others around me to encourage me even challenge me (the atheist normally takes on that role). As an example, I enjoy making dresses and tops but I need others to say, “That’s nice Sarah” or even “it would have been nicer in blue”. When I go to church I take my bible to ensure what the Pastor is reading is actually in the Bible as much as to follow along with him. I do not distrust my Pastor in the slightest, but I have not only to make sure I am not led astray (accidentally) but I have a responsibility to those younger than me to make sure they are not misinformed and my dad should be looking out for me too, but ultimately I have to take responsibility but I should (so should you sir) have a safety net which is other saints all looking out for each other and ensuring Gods word is transmitted biblically. I have no problem whatsoever, with 1 Tim 2:12 since if I had it wouldn’t be with my Pastor, Dad or even you sir, but it would be with the author and I believe that author to be God, how I came to this conclusion is via many, many godly people taking the responsibility to educate me unselfishly, the ones that were wrong, we’re just as useful as the ones that were right, as it showed me how easy it was to arrive at errors.

    I can imagine how you would have felt Mr M, you were offering a gift that was rejected in the most disrespectful way, however, it did give you the opportunity to teach on this point so I think we could thank the gift rejecter, for his assistance in the creation of your article.
    You could probably do with a hug so, (((((((Mr M,)))))))) but let’s not forget the, gift rejecter, as he probably needs a hug too, as he seems a man who possibly embraces loneliness, let’s hope if he hasn’t got room in his heart for you Mr M, he does have room in his heart for Jesus as Jesus will sort him out.

    Do not be discouraged Mr M, I spend hours on coursework sometimes and get a, C or a D as I have strayed too far from my teacher’s liberal mindset. Someone else gets an, A and they just copied stuff off the net, it’s frustrating but I think at least I worked for my C. What value the A if it wasn’t earnt, well that bit is what my dad said, as, for me, I have a tantrum in class hoping to get sent to the head so I can have my work evaluated by another teacher lol.

  • Amen. If it was just the move of the Spirit then Jesus would not have spent three years instructing the Apostles. We would not have the Gospels and scriptures like:-

    2Ti_2:15 Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

    and

    1Co_8:2 And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

    (MKJV)

    Plus we are told to worship God *both* in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). If you love truth you understand that we are incapable of coming up to God’s standard, no matter what we do, but we come even less close when we don’t use all our capabilities and those we find in others and the scriptures definitely don’t say to just give up and not try.

  • ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’ 1 Cor. 10:12

  • Thanks for another level headed article on spirituality Bill.

    Down at the Saturday street ministry in Melbourne we have banners displaying our mission. One states ‘Jesus Loves Muslims and so do we’. Another states ‘We Are Christians Sharing Jesus and Engaging With Islam’.

    Over the years there’s been countless so called Christians condemning our work and our Christianity without stopping to discuss their beef. They are mostly loud and arrogant and all mouth. The reason? They read the banners and jump to the conclusion that we were promoting some sort of ‘Chrislam’.

    This occurred again yesterday when a man furiously slammed a ‘Jesus and the Quran’ flyer on the table and berated us for our false Christianity because if we were Christians how could we protect Islam’?

    On this occasion I saw red and demanded he return to the table and discuss his grievances. For the first time I can ever recall whilst I’ve been involved with this ministry this man returned and in a calmer atmosphere all became clear to him that ‘engaging with Islam’ was in a military sense and not a betrothal of the two faiths. We were reaching out to Muslims who were wanting to leave the clutches of Islam. He quizzed me on what I believed salvation to mean, apologized, said well done shook my hand and left!

    If only Christians could get off their high horses, calm down, relax, listen to one another we might be able to shine a brighter heavenly light on society because Christianity is in serious trouble. Today I cannot with any confidence direct seekers to any one particular church where I know the Gospel and the Scriptures are faithfully proclaimed and yet the Marxist can brainwash many thousands of young lives, agitate the Indigenous community and court the LGBT and Muslims and have them march in their many thousands on nothing but lies and propaganda!

    Christians must stand for justice, truth and mercy without fear in our societies. The life of our living Christ and the Holy spirit must revive our souls or we will just be people of a lifeless religion to be pushed underground! The Holy Spirit is essential in the life of a Christian and it is my experience that He guides my words, inspires my preaching and witnessing and tugs at my conscience when I’m in error. But He never replaces fellowshipping with the saints or receiving teachings and inspiration from sent and equipped to guard the flock.

  • So just to clarify, are you saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t ever talk to people directly today? He only uses circumstances like what others say to us?

    The confusion here arises because while you are attacking the extreme, it leaves open the question of a more balanced individual that is teachable but also hears from the Spirit.

  • Thanks Nathan. I did not say the Holy Spirit does not or cannot ‘speak’ to us today – depending on what we mean by that term of course. Personal guidance and leading by the Spirit – including ‘hearing’ from Him – is something all believers can enjoy. But the point of this piece was to target those believers who think they have no need of others, of teachers, of books, etc. and can simply be lone wolf Christians. That is not an indication of spirituality, but of pride and the flesh. As I said in the piece, getting the biblical balance right is always crucial.

  • A former work colleague and pastor had a member of his congregation donate all of his Bible commentaries to him. You might think, “Great. He’s being generous to his pastor.” Not so. He said, “I don’t need these commentaries anymore. I’m going to rely on the Holy Spirit to help me understand and apply the Bible from now on.”

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