Chapter 2 - How the Holy Spirit Helps
In John 14:26 Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a "Helper" and says, "He will
teach you all things." Some people would conclude that, since the
Holy Spirit will teach us all things, Bible study is unnecessary.
They would claim that we do not need to work at discovering the teachings
of the Bible because the Holy Spirit will show us the truth directly.
This raises an important question: How does the Holy Spirit Help?
How does the Holy Spirit teach? Does he help and teach me directly
while I am inactive, merely a passive receiver of the truth? Or does
he help and teach me indirectly while I am actively working at the discovery
process with his help? We will consider six items in resolving this
1. To whom
was John 14:26 spoken?
The immediate context shows that the words "He will teach you all things"
were spoken to Jesus' contemporaries - people with whom he lived and to
whom he spoke (vv. 25-26). The larger context (John 13:1 to 18:1)
narrows this down to Jesus' original disciples (excluding Judas).
Thus, the promise "He will teach you all things" was made not to us, but
to Jesus' original disciples. (This promise may find its fulfillment
in the inspiration of the New Testament writings through the disciples.)
Although we cannot claim John 14:26 as a promise given directly to us,
it is still reasonable to conclude that the Holy Spirit can teach us all
things, because of 1 Corinthians 2:12-13. But we are still left with
the main question, How does the Holy Spirit teach us?
2. The need
for the Bible
If the Holy Spirit teaches me directly so that I am a passive receiver
of the truth, why do I even need a Bible? If the Holy Spirit's pattern
is to supply truth directly, then Luke should not have commended the Bereans
for their study of the Old Testament (Acts 17:11). However, if the
Holy Spirit's way of teaching us the truth includes our active use of the
Bible, then, and only then, do we need a Bible. Thus, the mere fact
that God has given us a Bible implies that God expects us to make active
use of it.
3. How the
Holy Spirit teaches the gospel
How does the Holy Spirit teach the gospel message in evangelism?
The Holy Spirit will "convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness,
and judgment" (John 16:8), but does he do so directly without using any
instruments? No, the Holy Spirit uses the instrument of the human
preacher (Rom. 10:14; 1 Cor. 3:6) and the instrument of the Word (Rom.
10:17; Acts 16:14). This does not prove, of course, that the Holy
Spirit teaches the believer the same way he teaches the nonbeliever.
But it does show that the Holy Spirit is not opposed to working with human
and verbal instruments.
It may appear at first glance that 1 John 2:27 indicates just the opposite
of this when it says that "you have no need for anyone to teach you; but
as His anointing teaches you about all things." However, the immediate
context in verses 18-27 shows that the word anyone in verse 27 refers mainly
to the false-teaching antichrists, who wanted those early Christians to
believe that Jesus is not the Messiah. Certainly none of these believers,
who already knew who Jesus is, needed anyone to teach him such a lie.
Thus, 1 John 2:27 is not a statement that believers are taught spiritual
truth directly without the use of any instruments.
4. How Jesus
The Holy Spirit was likened to Jesus when Jesus called him "another
Helper" who would be with the disciples forever (John 14:16). The
word "another" in the Greek means another helper of the same sort as Jesus.
Thus, it is helpful to note how Jesus taught, for there will probably be
a similarity between the way Jesus taught and the way the Holy Spirit teaches.
Jesus did not go around imparting spiritual insight to passive minds.
Those who learned from Jesus had to observe his life and miracles, ask
and answer questions, engage in discussions with other learners, and go
through vivid experiences. Jesus taught so that his learners were
very active mentally. When insight finally came from God (as in Peter's
declaration of Christ's identity, Matt. 16:16-17), it came after and was
based on the various active learning experiences through which the disciples
had been guided. It is likely that the Holy Spirit teaches in a similar
manner. Perhaps this is why Jesus said the Holy Spirit would "guide"
the original disciples into all truth (John 16:13). To be guided,
the learner must be active.
5. How God guides
How does God guide us in difficult situations? How do we find
out exactly what God wants us to do? Does he directly give us the
specific answers to our problem, or does he give us the ability to work
out an answer? Notice the wording of the promise, "if any of you
lacks wisdom" (the ability to work out a practical answer), "let him ask
God, . . . and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). The pronoun
"it" refers to "wisdom." Thus, James tells believers to ask, not
for a direct answer from God, but for wisdom. Of course, what they
receive is what they ask for, wisdom to work out the answer with the help
of the Holy Spirit. This harmonizes completely with the biblical
teaching regarding the use of our minds. We are to think hard and
reason logically. This is just the opposite of direct, intuitive
insight given to passive receivers. (More is said about the use of
the mind in chapter 13.)
6. How I live the Christian life
How am I supposed to live the Christian life in general, actively or
passively? If the Bible teaches that, on the whole, the Christian
life is supposed to be passive, then we would expect the same to be true
of learning spiritual truth, which is part of the Christian life.
Sometimes while seeking an answer to such a question, a person starts
by establishing a false twofold alternative in his mind. In this
case, he incorrectly states the problem, "Who does the spiritual things
in my Christian life? Do I, or does God?"
Then, in view of the warning against living the Christian life or serving
God in our own strength (John 15:4-5), we conclude that the only alternative
is to allow God to do it all while we do nothing. But we arrive at
this false conclusion only because we did not have all the alternatives
in mind at the start.
The true picture involves three alternatives, not merely two:
|I do it
||God and I do it together
||God does it
|(I try to live and serve on my own without God's help.)
||(I get my strength and direction from God, and then I do what he expects me to do, trusting in his help.)
||(I am passive. I do nothing and expect God to do it all.)
The complete question we must ask is, "Who does the spiritual things
in my Christian life? Do I, or does God, or do we both?"
While the Bible does tell us not to try to live and serve on our own, which
eliminates alternative A, it also tells us to be active in our living and
serving, which eliminates alternative C. Notice the active work mentioned
in the following passages.
I press on.
The only alternative that harmonizes with the biblical teaching on this
matter is alternative B. (Keep in mind we are discussing how a Christian
lives the Christian life, not how one becomes a Christian.)
Zealous for good deeds.
Created in Christ
Jesus for good works. (Eph. 2:10)
I will show you my
faith by my works (James 2:18)
Notice also that the Christian is not expected to be passively controlled
by the Holy Spirit. The phrase "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph.
5:18) is, to be sure, in the passive voice. But the sentence goes
on to say that the believer, once filled (or better, as part of his filling),
is supposed to be quite active (v. 19 and following). In fact, the
result of the Spirit's work in one's life is not his being passively controlled,
but his "self-control" (Gal. 5:23).
The New Testament repeatedly refers to God and the believer both working
together. When Jesus says "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John
15:5), the strong implication is that with Jesus you can do it.
Paul states, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil.
4:13), and "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is
God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure"
(Phil. 2:12-13), and "be strong in the Lord . . . and having done everything,
to stand firm" (Eph. 6:10-13). These passages show that when God
gives us wisdom and strength, that very wisdom and strength become ours!
We must use them, of course, never forgetting where we got them and never
boasting as though we were self-sufficient. We must daily rely on
God to direct us in, and strengthen us for, the work he wants us to do.
Thus, the Christian life is an active life, not a passive life, and
there is no reason to believe that learning spiritual truth is done differently.
I want to learn spiritual truth, I must actively engage in the work of
Bible study with the Holy Spirit's help. I cannot expect the
Holy Spirit to teach me biblical truth if I sit back and do nothing, but
the Holy Spirit will teach me as I work hard at Bible study.
There is nothing mystical about Bible study. When we pray, "Open
my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law" (Psalm 19:18),
we are not asking for direct revelation but for help as we actively search
and ponder the Bible. Both are necessary: the Holy Spirit's
help and teaching (illumination) and our diligent study. Paul indicated
both aspects when he told Timothy to "Consider what I say, for the
Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim. 2:7).
Part of that diligent study, a part that is often neglected, is to give
careful attention to the matter of procedure. This is discussed in
the next four chapters.
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