In defending our heritage in hermeneutics, godly brethren have consistently battled against denominational preachers concerning the Holy Spirit’s work. The Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals and others of the Calvinist persuasion have alleged that the Spirit must illuminate the alien sinner with a “special knowledge” in order for one to respond and be saved. This doctrine of “direct illumination” nullifies the free moral agency of man, the all-sufficiency of the gospel message to save man and the teaching of the New Testament that God’s truth is completely revealed. In an extreme response to the errors of Calvinist theology, some in the churches of Christ advocate that the Holy Spirit does absolutely nothing today except through the written word of God. This “word only” position being promoted by some preachers in the brotherhood is truly the exact opposite of the Calvinist teaching on the Holy Spirit’s work. Nevertheless, it is equally as radical and contrary to the Scriptures all the same. Some, falling into the pitfall of extremism, have failed to observe what the Bible does teach concerning the influence of the Holy Spirit. Let us consider a few Scriptural examples of the Lord’s Spirit working in the life of the Christian:
1) The Apostle Paul affirmed boldly: “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:19). Surely, we may take refuge in prayer and expect the deliverance our Lord supplies by the Holy Spirit. Is it “only through the Word” that we may receive deliverance in time of trial? Certainly not! Paul specifies that we are helped by the Spirit through prayer.
2) In Ephesians chapter 3, the apostle again affirms the work of the Holy Spirit. He states that he bows his knees to the Father (v. 14) “that He would grant you…to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (v. 16). We are told where the Spirit is and what He is doing but it is not until we read verse 20 that we may understand how it is being done: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we may ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” The Spirit of God, residing within the Christian, “works in us” in a way which is “abundantly above all that we may ask or think.” All that a Christian may possibly ask or think is located in the written word of God. A Christian cannot receive any illumination of knowledge beyond what is found within the Scriptures. Therefore, the Spirit is working beyond the Scriptures and not only through the word to strengthen the Christian.
3) Taking a look at chapter 1 in the Ephesian epistle, the Apostle gives a great insight concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. He is described as a “seal of promise” (v. 13) and a “guarantee of our inheritance” (v. 14) being delivered to those who believe on the Name of Christ. Also regarding the work of the Spirit, Paul continues by stating, “Therefore I also…do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (vv. 15 – 18). Paul’s prayer for his brethren reveals that it is clearly acceptable for a Christian to pray to God for blessings to receive from His Spirit in addition to the written word. Namely, these blessings are “wisdom” and “understanding.” Influences from worldly thinking are so rampant (1 Cor 1:20 – 25). It is entirely appropriate for a Christian to thwart these by requesting the intercession of the Spirit. The Psalmist was of this mindset: “Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” and “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psa 119:17, 18, 33, 34). James also had this same idea: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). It is by petition to God and an openness of heart, that a Christian may grow in his study of the word. Furthermore, it is by God’s personal activity that a Christian may receive immediate help in applying the principles found in the pages of the Bible (Rom 8:26, 27; 1 Cor 10:13; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 4:17).
Colossians 1:9 is an inspired record which speaks of “spiritual understanding” being granted to Christians as a result of prayer (i.e., understanding which emanates from the Holy Spirit). Another evidence of this truth is found in an examination of Luke 11:13 in view of Matthew 7:11. The Lord uses a figure of speech in these parallel passages known as “metonymy of the cause.” He states that the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Lk 11:13) and in Matthew’s account, He says that the Father gives “good things to those who ask Him.” Therefore, many good things that Christians receive from the Father are delivered by the Holy Spirit. This includes divine help to understand and apply God’s complete revelation in the Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit is given only to those who obey God (Acts 5:32; 1 Cor 6:19). Thus, divine help is available only to the Christian. However, the Spirit works through the teachings of the Bible to reach and influence the alien sinner (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:15, 16). To teach that the Spirit offers no providential help to the Christian in strengthening, understanding, wisdom, and discernment is grievously unscriptural. This doctrine relegates the Christian to the status of an unbeliever: one unable to receive extra-Biblical help from God. Furthermore, it denies the providential work of God. It has more in common with Deism than with the teaching of the Bible. Deism is “a system of thought advocating natural religion, denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). It is incredibly tragic that some brethren are deceived into this mentality which denies and thwarts God’s providential aid.
God does, indeed, intervene to help His people through the prayers and supplications of His saints and by the supply of His Spirit. It is not a denial of His all-sufficient word or a claim of present-day, miraculous revelation to teach that God is working in us today. The Bible, itself, is the source and evidence of this truth. We must “not cease to pray” to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding…strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power” (Col 1:9, 11). It is not “through the word alone” but by diligent prayer, as well, that Christians will receive these things from God’s Spirit. The whole counsel of God teaches us that both elements are essential in the life of the Christian: study and prayer. It is not wise or spiritual to doubt God’s power to answer prayer (James 1:6, 7). To eliminate the power of prayer through a denial of the Spirit’s operation will result in a philosophy of man: Christian Deism. Let us reject the Deist notion that God is uninvolved in our lives and affirm His work through and in conjunction with the word of God.