(3) Spirit: What Could Be

Mar 09, 2024

How do you know when the Spirit of God is speaking? 

Claiming that "the Spirit told me" something is very easy to do.  And when you hear someone say that, it's almost as if you are not allowed to ask, "How do you know it was God's Spirit talking to you, and not something else?"  If you dare ask such a thing, it's obvious that you have no faith or that you are trying to cause trouble. 

I hear this from Bible readers all the time.  They say, "I know that the Spirit will teach me what a Bible text means, so I don't need all of that other stuff to understand the Bible." I want to ask, "Who told you that?" It's interesting because when they tell me such a thing, the Spirit immediately tells me, "Don't blame me, I didn't tell them that!" So who is telling the truth?  When someone pits the Spirit of God against Bible study, it's a way of getting around any real need for Bible study. In effect, they are saying that reading by the Spirit is the great Bible study method from the sky, so I don't need to know anything about those man-made "Bible study methods."    

I also hear this from preachers occasionally (not very often, thankfully), that "God came to me this week and gave me this message for all of you!" Certainly, God's Spirit is able to do such things. But I have a dilemma:  when I hear that in a public message, I wonder why I also hear an immediate voice in my own head saying, "Does this bear evidence of being from the Spirit of God?"  Is that merely because I have a lack of faith?  Or could it be the Spirit of God reminding me, as a person of faith, that Christians were instructed long ago: "Do not believe every spirit!"  (1Jn 4:1). 

In both cases, just because someone claims something, doesn't make it so.  There is a difference between being led by the Spirit when reading the Bible (a good and wonderful thing), and blaming the Spirit for a lack of willingness to take care when reading the Bible (an irresponsible thing).

And hiding behind Mt 10:19 ("what you are to say will be given to you in that hour") does not change this—that is not a "get out of jail free" card for lazy or irresponsible Bible readers, preachers, or teachers.

There is no conflict between the Spirit of God and the responsible, careful study of the Word of God. And so, I say again: 

That is why all reading of biblical texts should be Spirit-led. ALL!  However, Spirit-led Bible reading is not a method; it's not an excuse for shoddy reading habits, not cheap way of access to God.

So what is it? 

Spirit-led Bible reading is an attitude of submission to God’s Spirit on the part of the reader. Whether one comes to a biblical text for reflection, meditation,
or some form of detailed, focused textual study, one must submit to God's Spirit in the process.

Just think of what could be the case if our churches were to energetically embrace a path for reading by the Spirit of God. How would that change the believing community?  How would that change you?  Do you believe it would make any difference? 

So now, let’s draw some principles from the previous two articles.

First, the Spirit of God can work through anybody at any time in whatever way it chooses—even through biblical scholars; and yes, even through rules and methods for biblical interpretation. Reading the Bible by the Spirit of God is an attitude, not a method; and it is not a replacement for sound methods.

So while you might not want to become a scholar yourself (which is just fine), that does not mean that you have freedom to do with texts whatever you feel like doing while blaming your interpretive decisions on the Holy Spirit of God. Nor does it mean that scholars are of no value to you and that you should be arrogant towards them (nor they towards you) as if we all have nothing to learn from each other.

Second, being led by the Spirit when reading the Bible does NOT mean that the Spirit will do all of your work for you. The Spirit of God is not an excuse for you to be lazy! If the Spirit really is leading you in Bible reading, you will drop any notion that the Spirit has somehow made you some kind of ridiculous promise that it will always whisper in your ear the answer to every question you decide to ask. That’s the genie in the bottle, not the Holy Spirit of God.

Third, being led by the Spirit when reading the Bible is aided greatly by prayer, submission, and an eagerness and willingness to roll up your sleeves to engage in the process of study.  This includes both simple and more involved steps in the study process.  The more you engage, and the more involved you are willing to become, the more blessed by the Spirit you will be.  As we continue in this series, we'll look at some step-by-step actions in the study process that you can take to open yourself up to the Spirit of God as you swim neck-deep through the Word of God. 

When Christians, as a community of believers, together submit to the Spirit of God as they read the scriptures, surprising things happen. When we do that, we'll find ourselves not only basking in the wonderful, life-giving message of Jesus and how it reaches into our hearts and lives, but also we'll find ourselves wanting to know more about sound methods that help us engage in true conversation with some of the most precious texts ever written in the world.

Let's read the Bible while being led by the Spirit of God.

Series Intro: 
Power-Reading the Bible

1. Reading By the Spirit
Week 1: What Does It Mean?
Week 2: The Letter Kills
Week 3: What Could Be!

2. Reading the Text
Week 4: Methods

Week 5: The Prime Directive 
Week 6: Text Methods: Highs and Lows

3. Self Disciplines
Week 7: Methods for the Self
Week 8: Specialty Tools
Week 9: The Self and DBS

4. Summary
Week 10: Spirit, Text, Self: Our Repertoire


(If you'd like to respond to this post or send a message to me, see the "Contact Us" box in the right column.)
(Click "Blog HOME" in right column to see main blog list.)

Power-Reading the Bible 

Take biblical authors out for coffee.

A new Bible-reading skill.

A 5-video course
(1.4 hours)

Click Here
for a free 3.5 minute intro