This is a helpful article from a friend of mine. Please read and enjoy … or don’t enjoy.
Does God talk to people today? Let’s check the facts!
This is a helpful article from a friend of mine. Please read and enjoy … or don’t enjoy.
Does God talk to people today? Let’s check the facts!
As we continue to look at the Dispensational view of the Christian life, we are pleased to be able to begin to look at the more positive side of the issue. That is not to say that the content of the teaching doesn’t have negative aspects, but the outcome of those is quite positive. Having examined the Christian’s obstacles to living the Christian life, it is necessary now to look at what are the positive steps toward actually overcoming said obstacles. We will endeavor to do that here, and in the following post(s).
The Believer’s Progress in the Christian Life
Lewis Sperry Chafer made a bold statement when he said, “The Christian will always be filled (by the Spirit) while he is making the work of the Spirit possible in his life.”[i] Bold statement or not it is biblical and can be substantiated by careful exegesis. We will now consider this truth very briefly.
Scripture gives the believer much in the way of directives and principles by which he is able to progress in the Christian life. We will examine four main imperatives, one dealing with the first intelligent step toward growth, and three dealing with the believer’s relationship to the indwelling Spirit: 1.) Present yourself to God (Rom. 12:1), 2.) Do not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), 3.) Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), 4.) Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
Present Yourself to God
After spending the first eight chapters of Romans developing deep doctrinal truths including the foundation of the believer’s position in Christ Paul begins chapter twelve with a command that serves to shape the remainder of the letter: “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God (from the first eight chapters) to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). Paul spent a great amount of the first three chapters developing the truth of man’s lost estate capping off the section with the pronouncement that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” followed immediately by the glorious news that those who are saved are so by “being justified as a gift by His grace through, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). Again, the focus is on what God has accomplished on behalf of the believer and this truth is the basis upon which Paul pleads with believers to present their bodies to God.
The idea that Paul is attempting to convey is that, based on the glorious mercy of God in our salvation, we should dedicate ourselves completely to Him. The language used here is reminiscent of the animal sacrifices familiar to both Jewish worshippers and pagan ritualists. The Greek word paristemi is translated “present” in this passage. As to the technical usage of the word in this context, Marvin Vincent states, “It is the technical term for presenting the Levitical victims and offerings. . . . In the Levitical sacrifices the offerer placed his offering so as to face the Most Holy Place, thus bringing it before the Lord.”[ii] What we see then is that Paul is presenting, no pun intended, the fact that the believer has an obligation to offer himself as a real sacrifice to God, which is a total dedication in the same fashion that the Old Testament animals were set apart and dedicated for the purpose of giving their lives for the sins of Israel. The obvious differences serve to further expound the magnitude of the decision, which differences are first that unlike the sacrifices of old it is a voluntary decision, and second, it involves continued living in a state of dedication instead of immediate death of the sacrifice.
I labeled this as the first intelligent step toward growth. The reason is simple; it is a step of obedience to the Word of God. This does not necessarily mean that the believer is acting in response to Paul’s words, but it does mean that he is acting in response to God’s work in his life possibly through a series of events that God has used to bring him to the end of his own strength. In conjunction with this positive step it is without question that he will soon thereafter discover that what he has done was in obedience to God’s word.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Chafer correctly expresses the truth of the matter when he described the Christian life as one of supernatural requirements and in constant need of the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit and God’s enabling grace.[iii] With such needs and requirements it is imperative that the believer maintain a fellowship with the Spirit. It is therefore incumbent upon the believer to obey Paul’s message.
To grieve the Spirit is to tolerate known sin in our lives, to live with unconfessed sin. “Grieve” is the translation of the Greek word lupeo in its present active form which likely indicates that Paul was saying “do not go on grieving the Holy Spirit.” Sin is to miss the mark of God’s perfect righteousness or to deviate from His perfect standard. As Chafer states, “where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[iv] Allowing sin in our hearts to go unchecked places us in an immediate state of carnality regardless of the length of time that we stay in that condition (Ps. 66:18). Yet, God has provided for the remedy for the sins of the believer, which provision also allows an immediate restoration of fellowship between the believer and Himself.
John addresses this subject in First John where he admits that any believer can “walk in darkness” (1:6), and thus he is not practicing the truth but that which is contrary to God’s very nature (1:5). Though still a believer, he is nonetheless living in the flesh (carnal). That walk in darkness proves that the one doing so is not in fellowship with God but out of fellowship. John continues by broadening the subject stating, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). “Sin” here is in reference to the sin nature and not individual sins.[v] If we say that we do not continue to have the very source of sin, the old man, remaining in us we are deceiving ourselves. This is a sure way to live a defeated life and not progress in growth toward maturity. However, John continues: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Therefore, understanding that we continue to have a sin nature we also understand that we continue to sin and are able to deal correctly with it. In doing so, we can maintain a consistent fellowship with the indwelling, empowering Spirit.
We can conclude that at some point in our lives as Christians we will grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning and not immediately confessing it. We may even remain in that state for some length of time. That state of broken fellowship isolates us from the Spirit’s ministries in us, particularly His work of empowering us to live the Christian life. However, God has offered the means for reestablishing fellowship by simply confessing our sins.
Do Not Quench the Spirit
Another negative command is, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). “Quench” is from the Greek meaning to put out (a fire), suppress, or stifle. In the present context Paul was telling the Thessalonians not to resist the out working of the Spirit and of the gifts He gives within the life of the Church (see vv. 12-18 and 20-22). Such resistance would stifle His work in their midst and would be tantamount to refusing to abide by and submit to the Spirit and the spiritual gifts at work. However, the quenching of the Spirit is not limited to the output of the spiritual gifts (vv. 12-18).
When the believer says no to the Spirit’s work, regardless of the form that work takes, he quenches or suppresses the Spirit and therefore limits or inhibits His work in the believer’s life. The Spirit does not abandon the believer, as seen earlier in the distinctions between Israel and the Church, but the believer’s resistance makes the Spirit’s filling impossible until the believer changes his mind (repentance) and confesses his sin. Therefore, the believer, according to Paul, must “stop quenching the Spirit” (present active imperative) by refusing to allow Him to work.
The cure to the quenching of the Spirit is to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). This correlates directly with one’s decision to dedicate himself to God (Rom. 12:1). Christ Himself is the perfect example of this attitude (Phil. 2:5). In Hebrews 10:7 the testimony of our Lord is found: “Then I said, Behold, I have come . . .to do your will, O God.” It is perfect submission and obedience to God’s will.
To sum up, to quench the Spirit is to refuse to obey God’s revealed will. The cure is to have a change of mind (repentance) concerning said refusal and the decision to live in obedience to His will. It is to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and to adopt both the knowledge and the attitude associated with it (Phil. 2:5).
Walk by the Spirit
Finally, we find a positive command from Paul. He says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This is the believer’s exercising positive volition in deciding live in dependence upon the indwelling Spirit’s power and guidance.
To walk by the Spirit refers to living by means of the indwelling Spirit. In other words it is a moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in taking every step of life by faith in God based upon the knowledge of His revealed will in Scripture. Ryrie agrees, “Actually walking is, by its very nature, a succession of dependent acts. . . .Walking can only be done successfully by successive acts of faith in the power of one’s feet. Likewise the Christian walk can be done successfully only by a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit’s control over one’s life.”[vi] Remember, the Christian life is one of supernatural requirements such as understanding God’s will and choosing to live in obedience to it. This is made possible only through reliance upon the indwelling Spirit, the one “who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). When a believer grieves the Spirit by allowing sin to remain unchecked in his life he allows sin to interrupt the Spirit’s continued guidance. When a believer quenches the Spirit by refusing to live in obedience to what he knows the will of God to be he suppresses the Spirit’s work in his life. However, when the believer responds in obedience to God’s revealed will and chooses to depend upon the Spirit to do so he is walking by means of the Spirit.
Walking in the Spirit is living moment-by-moment under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is to walk step-by-step under His guidance by not allowing personal sins to be left unconfessed and thereby not grieving the Spirit, and by choosing obedience to God’s revealed will thereby not quenching the Spirit. The positive decision to depend on the Spirit results in walking by means of the Spirit, or the Spirit’s filling. We will address the Spirit’s filling in the final section to follow.
It is therefore to the Christian’s benefit to strive to walk by means of the Spirit. Only in doing so will the believer find victory in the Christian life. However, we must not confuse this striving with the self-generated attempt to gain holiness by mere self-effort. Instead it is accomplished in the one who is being motivated by the Holy Spirit through knowledge of God’s revealed will and who is empowered to do so by the indwelling Spirit to choose to obey God.
Each of the previous subsections of the believer’s progress in the Christian life are related to the maturation progress involved in growth as a follower of Jesus Christ. In addition to these truths there must be added at least two others that have direct bearing upon a Christian’s ability to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
The Christian life is reflective of natural life. Within the believing one is born a new man. That new man is meant to progress forward from the initial stage of birth to the final stage of full maturation. There is a definite process to this growth. The ultimate goal is to progress to the point that Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19). The Christian life, when healthy and normal, follows the same process as natural life. That is, just as a newborn baby must go through the stages of growth on his way to maturity, so the newborn Christian is a baby that must progress toward maturity. One of the failures of the Church is that there seems to be a mindset that believes every Christian is automatically on the course toward maturity simply because they believe in Christ for salvation. Merryman offers a clear and helpful explanation, “…[A] new Christian cannot be mature because maturity involves time plus knowledge of truth and application of truth (m = t + kot + aot). The same is true in physical life: at age 1 a person can be an absolutely healthy organism just as at age 20; but at age 1, it is impossible to be as mature as at age 20.”[vii] Sadly, there are many believers who are twenty years old in Christ but are babies in their maturity level.
[i]Chafer, Spiritual, 67.
[ii]Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), Logos Bible Software.
[iii]Chafer, Spiritual, 43.
[v]Both Chafer and Merryman address this issue. Chafer states, “Sin is what we are by birth, while sins are the evil we do in life” (Chafer, Spiritual, 114). Merryman addresses the issue in the following: “John is not referring in this verse to “sins” (as he does in verse 9), rather to their source, the animating sin that continually resides in us. . . . It is the animating sin nature that he is focusing on.” See Ron Merryman, The Passion War: Spiritual Conflict in Every Believer (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2002), 5.
[vi]Ryrie, Christian Life, 114-15.
[vii] Ron Merryman, Spirituality…Maturation…Retrogression… (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2004), 6 (emphases in original).
In this He That Is Spiritual article we will continue our discussion of the spiritual life from a Dispensational, therefore Scriptural viewpoint. I don’t say that simply to poke the nose of Reformed Covenantalists who believe Dispensationalism is wrong. I say that based on points made earlier in the previous three articles. Before anyone decides to berate me for saying it, please read the three other articles in this series.
The Believer’s Problem in the Christian Life
At some juncture in the believer’s life, whether it is immediate or sometime later, he will desire to live a life pleasing to God.[i] At least three major issues immediately come into play for the new believer and they will remain a mystery to him until he is made aware that these issues exist.
The first issue is intimately tied to our position in Christ. What is it that motivates us to live the Christian life? Are we motivated by a sense of duty or fear of being cast off by God? Is it a sense of trying to do something to make ourselves acceptable to Him? Or are we motivated by the fact that we know and understand who we are in Christ and the riches to which we are privileged? Chafer describes this necessary knowledge as resulting in “intelligent motives.”[ii] “The Christian who is perfected forever, being in Christ, has, nevertheless, a life of imperfection to live so long as he is in this world.”[iii] It is the lack of this knowledge that causes some believers to live in a perpetual state of defeat and impotence in their daily lives. Because of ignorance of these truths believers become disillusioned and frustrated when they realize that they are not progressing towards maturity and continually struggle with sin. They attempt to obtain and live in holiness are based on faulty knowledge. Thus they struggle to make themselves holy and acceptable to God not knowing that based on their position in Christ they are already holy and acceptable. An excellent description of this is found in Paul’s own life:
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is, in my flesh;…For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want….Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:15,18a,19,24,25a)
Chafer offers an excellent analysis of the predicament in which the uninformed believer finds himself:
The new problem which he confronts, …is not one of how he should live that he might be accepted and perfected before God, but rather of how he, an accepted and perfected person, should live after these stupendous realities are accomplished by the grace and power of God. Until this vital distinction is comprehended and received, there will be no progress made in the extensive field of truth which directs the Christian’s life and service. Until positional truth is recognized and received to the extent that the saved one acknowledges that he is saved and perfected in the sight of God on no other ground than that, on his part, he has believed on Christ to the saving of his soul, and on God’s part, he is justified, being both forgiven and constituted righteous through the immeasurable twofold substitution of Christ…there can be only confusion and misunderstanding about the true motivating principle in the Christian’s daily life.[iv]
Therefore, the believer’s motives for living a Christian life become a central issue. Without properly grasping these truths an immature believer will go about attempting to please God in order to become acceptable instead of living to please God because he is already acceptable in Christ. He will attempt to become holy through physical means when in truth he is already holy because of divine intervention through his union with Jesus Christ, and so on. Once again Paul describes the issue when he asks the church in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Thus we must assert that it is imperative that the believer know and understand his newfound position in Christ.
The world, the flesh, and the Devil are the three enemies common to all believers. Identifying and learning to do battle with these enemies is the second of the three issues. It is appropriate to begin with the world since it is in this sphere in which we conduct our physical existence.
The New Testament uses three different Greek words translated as world. The one used in the vast majority of passages is the word kosmos. Of its many meanings, one prominently featured in the New Testament is the idea of a designed, ordered, and purposeful system that has been put into action by an architect. The ruler of this system is identified variously as “the ruler” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), or the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), which is Satan. The world has its own standards by which it operates (1 Cor. 1:21; 3:19). These are in opposition to God’s standards and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21,25), and to adopt the world’s standards is to become the enemy of God (James 4:4).
Believers are warned not to love this kosmos system (1 John 2:15-16). In fact, part of the mission of the believer is to destroy the “fortresses” containing this worlds “speculations (man-made philosophies) and every lofty (pretentious) thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought (false belief) captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:2-5). This feat is not easily accomplished since the believer must be matured in “the knowledge of God” (v.5) in order to do so. Chafer offers valuable insight into how to experience victory when he states, “The Biblical, as well as practical, cure for “worldliness” among Christians is so to fill the heart and life with the eternal blessings of God that there will be a joyous preoccupation and absent-mindedness relative to unspiritual things.”[v] In other words, to overcome the poisonous “wisdom” of this kosmos system it is absolutely necessary to avail ourselves of the “mind of Christ” that we possess because of our union with Him (1 Cor. 2:16). This may be accomplished only in the believer who knows and understands this truth, and it is made possible only through the power of the indwelling Spirit and the application of the word of God to everyday events of life (1 Cor. 2:10-13; John 17:17 cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4).
The believer has a precarious balancing act to perform in that he must live in this world (John 17:11,15-16) without becoming tainted by it (James 1:27). Only by knowledge of the Word of God and the power of the indwelling Spirit (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and faith (1 John 5:4) will the believer overcome this world system.
The devil also presents a major impediment for the believer who desires to live the Christian life. Recall how Paul described our pre-salvation existence; “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-2). This system is governed by one who is directing its course, which is “according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). This ruler is Satan, the Devil, the accuser of believers (Rev. 12:10). Peter warns believers to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Again, Paul warns believers to be prepared with the armor of God in order to “be able to resist in the evil day,” having taken “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:13,16). He is a formidable foe for whom the believer must be on guard. Without proper knowledge and preparation the believer will be powerless in the spiritual battle that he faces.
Finally, the third of the identified enemies that stand in the way of the believer’s successful execution of the Christian life is his own flesh. This is a somewhat controversial idea, but it should not be since it is clearly biblical. The flesh composes the inner source of our sinfulness. The Greek word sarx is translated as flesh. It can refer to human or animal flesh, the physical body, but also speaks of what is more than physical in man. It often refers to “man’s nature generally.”[vi] Chafer says that “it includes in its meaning the whole of the unregenerate person, – spirit, soul and body.”[vii] Unlike the other obstacles to the Christian life, this particular enemy is internal and its influence cannot easily be overcome. Paul makes the clearest statement concerning the fact that believers are capable of living by their flesh and thus reflecting the actions of the old man, the lost man. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 Paul identifies three separate types of men; natural, spiritual, and men of flesh. It is the third person that he names is of concern to us. He chastises the Corinthian church for living like “men of flesh,” which is the translation of sarkinos, a word related to sarx. Paul’s admonition is that they stop acting like infants in Christ, like mere natural or lost men, and grow to maturity as a spiritual man (2:15). Knowing the background of the Corinthian church allows us to see that it is indeed possible for a believer to live as if he is a lost man, as a carnal believer who is out of fellowship with God. It is a difficult task to overcome the flesh and not live as “men of flesh.” However, Scripture is clear that we can overcome even our flesh.
Paul declares, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). As we will see in the section dealing with progress in Christian life, walking in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is key to living out His will in our lives. Notice how Paul describes the means of walking, or living. One instance is by the Spirit, or by means of the Spirit while the other is carrying out the desire (epithumea – craving, longing, lust) of the flesh. The inner war is seen in the competing desires as Paul explains, “For the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (v.17). What Paul is describing here are two competing forces. The one of concern at this juncture is the flesh. Chafer further describes the moral use of the word flesh correctly when he wrote that it “implies that it [flesh] is still alive and includes that which makes it alive and that which expresses itself through the physical body.”[viii] Scripture attests to this in numerous places either by direct pronouncement or strong implication (2 Pet. 2:18; 1 John 2:16; Rom. 7:18; 13:14; Eph. 2:3).
[i]It seems highly improbable that a new believer will not have the desire to live pleasing to God, but typically that zeal will fade, and later at some point in his life he will face a time of upheaval that will bring the need and desire into focus more clearly.
[ii]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1973), 6:162-65.
[vi]H. G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996) Logos Bible Software.
[vii]Chafer, Spiritual, 111.
At the outset of this series I made the assertion that there is a Dispensational view of of the spiritual life. In fact, I determined that the Dispensational view of the spiritual life is the truly biblical view. I attempted to lay out my rationale for such a bold statement by detailing two of the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, the consistent usage of a normal hermeneutic, and the resultant distinction between Israel and the Church, in particular with reference to the Spirit’s new work within each individual believer. I will endeavor to begin to build upon the second particular here.
As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life.
God’s Provision for the Christian Life
The state of every man prior to the moment of salvation is said to be that of spiritual death. Paul explains that “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Every man ever born is the seed of “the first man, Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “in Adam all die” (v.22). Physical death is a product of and therefore follows spiritual death. Yet God was not satisfied to leave man in this state, so He provided for man’s rebirth. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Likewise through Paul we learn that before exercising faith in Christ we were dead, but God made us alive: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1-2a, 4-5). In this one passage two different experiences of life are identified. The first is merely natural, human life void of the spiritual whereas the second is an act of God’s mercy displayed in love toward those spiritually dead by making them alive with, or in, Christ. Here we have a description of that which Jesus spoke of in John 3:3 when He explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between the natural man of the flesh and the spiritual man who is born of the Holy Spirit.
What is also seen in the aforementioned verses is the fact that all three persons of the Godhead are active in making provision for spiritual life for everyone who believes in Christ. Of the many works of God that take place at the moment one believes, those that we will examine here are: regeneration, justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Spirit, as well as the indwelling of the Spirit.
Regeneration means to be born again. Although the word regeneration only appears twice in Scripture (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:4-5), the doctrine is unquestionably presented throughout the New Testament. We most often think of death as the cessation of life. While this is true, a more proper view is that death is separation. Physical death occurs when the human body is separated from human life. Spiritual death occurred when Adam rebelled against God at which point Adam and his descendants were separated from God, the giver and sustainer of man’s spiritual life. Sin created a barrier that separates man and God. Therefore, natural man is in a perpetual state of separation from the source of spiritual life. However, as stated earlier, God was not satisfied leaving man in a state of spiritual death. When one conducts a thorough study of the whole of Scripture he finds that in eternity past God designed a plan to remove the barrier. When the predetermined time in history came, “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, [and] He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). We conclude by returning to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.”
God’s plan included the payment for sin, which Christ the Son supplied through sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Christ is also said to give new life to those dead in sin. The Lord Himself describes this fact when He said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21). In fact, Jesus Himself is “the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It may be said that Christ, by His death, removed the barrier of sin and made regeneration possible for those who believe.
The Spirit’s work in the new birth is that of actually applying it to the believing one. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between two different men. The natural man is that one born of the flesh. The spiritual man is the believer who has been born of or by the Holy Spirit. The new birth is the product of the Spirit’s work in us. The believer does not experience this work of the Spirit. That is it is not something that registers with the emotions or the senses. Yet it is a definite work nonetheless.
At the moment one believes in Jesus Christ unto salvation he not only partakes in the new birth he is also justified and sanctified. Justification is a one-time act of God whereby He declares the believer to be righteous. It is a legal judgment. Like salvation itself, justification is non-meritorious and unearned. It is a gift (Rom. 3:24). As Robert Lightner describes it:
Because of our position in Christ (Eph. 2:13), whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21), God declares us righteous because we are clothed with his righteousness (Rom. 5:1). . . . Justification is more than simply God viewing the sinner as though he had never sinned. Instead, it is God looking upon the sinner to whom the righteousness of Christ earned at the cross has been added.[i]
Thus we can conclude that justification is God declaring the believing one to be righteous.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans the doctrine of justification is presented in great detail. Romans 3:21-26 outlines the role of the Son in justification. God’s righteousness demands the judgment and punishment of sin as attested to by the Law and the Prophets (v.21). Righteousness is provided to the Christian at the moment he places his faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). The problem is that all men sin and fall short of God’s glory, but based on the redemption provided by the death of Christ God justifies the believer as a gift once again, received through faith (vv.23-25). Because sin was judged and paid for by Christ in His death on the cross God is able to maintain His perfect righteousness and yet proclaim the believing sinner justified (v.26). Because of this work of God in Christ, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:20).
God pronounces man justified, Christ provided the sacrifice needed for man’s justification, and the Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to the believer so that he may be proclaim just by God. It is the Holy Spirit who brings new life to the believer by placing Him into Christ and His righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:1-2).
Baptism and Sanctification
We’ll begin with sanctification first. The word sanctification comes from the Greek word hagiazo meaning to set aside, consecrate, or dedicate. In our specific setting it refers to being set aside by God and for His purpose. While justification and sanctification are simultaneous works accomplished by the Spirit, they are not synonymous. They are intimately tied together and inseparable. Lightner correctly sums up this connectedness: “To be justified is to be declared righteous before God, and to be sanctified is to be set apart; the one presupposes the other.”[ii]
Sanctification differs from both regeneration and justification in that it is a work accomplished in the believer and is meant to be experienced in the Christian life. Regeneration is a one-time work of God never to be repeated. Looking again to the inseparable relationship between sanctification and justification it should be noted that on the one hand justification is a single act of God declaring man righteous and places him in a right relationship with God. On the other hand sanctification is an “initial”[iii] work of God that sets the believer apart for God’s purpose, but it also has ongoing, or progressive and final, or ultimate aspects. Sanctification sets the believer apart as a holy being for God’s purpose and use, and his holy position is to be reflected in the believer’s daily walk. In its experiential (progressive) sense it is in fact the crux of the Christian life.
Scripture gives ample description of the work that each member of the Godhead accomplishes in producing the believer’s sanctification. For example, Paul desired that God the Father would sanctify the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:23) and Christ Himself prayed that the Father would sanctify His disciples through His word (John 17:17). Likewise we find that Christ sanctifies those who believe in Him (John 17:19; Heb. 2:11). Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies those who have faith in Him (Heb. 9:13; 10:10). It is said of the Church that Christ loves her “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul exclaims that Christ is the source of life in him that allows him to live in obedience to God.
However, to be true to the teaching of Scripture the work of the Spirit is featured foremost in the sanctification of the believer. As Ryrie explains, “…to be faithful to the emphasis of Scripture we must observe that the work of the Holy Spirit is given prominence in the process of sanctification….it is the Spirit who changes us “into the same image from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).”[iv] He is correct in his appraisal. Elsewhere, Paul identifies the Spirit’s power in the believer enabling the believer to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). In other words, the Spirit that indwells the believer also empowers the believer to choose obedience to God over enslavement to the flesh. The Spirit floods the heart of the believer with assurance and stability (Rom. 5:5). The Scriptural presentation demonstrates that sanctification in its initial phase is the work of God the Father and the Son, in its progressive sense it is a work shared by God the Son and God the Spirit, but in both the progressive and ultimate senses the bulk of the work belongs to the ministry of the indwelling Spirit.
The baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is that ministry in which He unites us with Christ in His death and places us into a position that opens the door to the possibility for the Christian to walk in a new way of life. It occurs once at the moment of saving faith. As Ron Merryman explains, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the ministry whereby He takes the believer at the moment of saving faith retroactively through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and places him/her into living union with the Lord Jesus Christ.”[v] Colossians 2:12-13 describes in with vivid language the truth that by faith we are buried with Him through this baptism, raised in new life with him (cf. Rom. 6:4) and made us “alive together with Him” having forgiven us all transgressions. In this union we are co-crucified (Rom. 6:5), co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).
Paul provides a more full treatment of the baptizing work and its intended results to the Roman believers:
How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:2b-7)
As Paul specifically states it is the Spirit’s work to unite us with Christ by baptizing us into His death. As Kenneth Wuest explains[vi], the word “baptized” is actually a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma meaning “dipping” or “baptism.” In determining its meaning in the current context, Wuest explains, “The usage of the word…resolves itself into the following definition of the word baptizo…‘the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with something else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition.”[vii] It can be concluded from Paul’s word usage that the Spirit unites us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He goes on to explain that the purpose is “so that…we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Therefore, we are placed into a new environment or in union with Christ in His death thereby dying to sin (v.7) resulting in the possibility of consistently living in that new, divine life imparted to us. This union with Christ is of utmost importance for the believer. It is this union produced by Spirit’s baptizing ministry that places us into a position to live the Christian life.
At the risk of being redundant allow me to further underscore the truth of the believer’s baptism into Christ for it cannot be overemphasized. Time and time again Paul references the result of the Spirit’s baptizing work upon the believer with the phrase “in Christ” (en Christo) and various parallel phrases in order to emphasize this most important relationship. The Spirit baptizes every believer into Christ, and it is this position of privilege, power and possession from which the believer receives the ability to live the Christian life.
In John 14:20 Jesus taught His disciples that after His departure, “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in You.” It is the Spirit’s obligation to bring this to pass today as He takes up residence in every believer in Christ. That this is true is expressed by Jesus earlier in the chapter when He said, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (vv.16-17).
Paul further illustrates this marvelous work of the Spirit when he describes the believers in the church in Rome as “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” because of the Spirit’s indwelling (Rom. 8:9).[viii] In fact, Paul explains that if the Spirit is not indwelling a person that one “does not belong to Christ” (v.9). In accord with this discussion Paul equates this indwelling of the Spirit with “Christ…in you” (v.10). It is on the basis of the Spirit’s indwelling that we have the hope of the resurrection (v.11), and it is the indwelling that enables the us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (v.13).
To sum up we find that by regeneration the Spirit births a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In justification the new believer is made righteous based on his new connection to Christ’s righteousness. The Spirit’s work in the believer in the ministries of sanctification, baptism, and indwelling are central to the believer’s ability to live the Christian life. Sanctification sets the believer apart by God for His purpose. In baptism the believer is placed in vital union with Christ, and through the Spirit’s indwelling the believer has access to the divine enablement provided by Him.
[i]Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 203.
[iv]Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 63.
[v]Ron Merryman, Divine Operating Assets for the Believer in Time, vol. II of God’s Grace Provision for Man’s Success: An Analysis of All Phases of Salvation by Grace (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2012), 27.
[vi]Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Logos Bible Software.
[viii]eiper may be translated as “If as is the case” (see A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Logos Bible Software)
Yesterday I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction I will briefly review.
Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered. When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.
Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church. What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life. I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.
Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency
Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –
As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture. Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.
Augustine and Dualism –
Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.” It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.
Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.
Catholic Allegorism –
Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.
Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;
The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”
Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.
The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.
Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.
Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.
With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders. The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall. None had assurance of salvation. Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders. The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.
Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.
To be continued.
I would like to introduce you to the 1024project.com if you have not yet discovered it on your own. I am one of the founding members and would like to invite you to sample some of the sites work. The above article is by one of the other founding members, Dr. Mike Stallard. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Below is a brief description of the 1024project:
What is the 1024 Project?
The 1024 Project is a collaboration of Christian leaders, based on Hebrews 10:24 – “and let us consider ways to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” One way we can accomplish this mandate is by working together to provide encouraging and edifying resources on issues that arise in the lives of individual believers and in corporate church life. The 1024 Project is a clearinghouse of teaching, resources and information from likeminded leaders of Biblical churches, who are committed to Two Key Distinctives:
First, the Bible (the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament) is the inspired, inerrant (in the original manuscripts), revealed word of God, and is authoritative and sufficient for the equipping of saints for every good work.
Second, the Bible provides the model for its own interpretation, and should be understood in its natural (literal grammatical-historical) sense, considering context and the progress of revelation. The 1024 Project and its members are committed to the consistent application of the literal grammatical-historical method for understanding the entire Bible.
These Two Key Distinctives have some obvious implications. One implication worth noting here is that the 1024 Project means by “considering context and the progress of revelation” that the earlier Biblical texts provide grounding and definition for later Biblical texts, and not the other way around (the OT is not to be reinterpreted by the NT, rather the NT is to be understood in light of the OT). Consequently, hermeneutic models that advocate NT primacy, like the canonical or complementary approaches, do not consider context and progress of revelation in keeping with the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic.
One’s hermeneutic practice is a topic of vital importance. Everyone has a hermeneutic practice whether they know it or not and whether they are able to explain it or not. What is the term hermeneutic(s) you may ask. Good question.
The term hermeneutic (hur ma noo tik) may be defined as the science of interpretation, in particular the interpretation of Scripture. When a Christian, or anyone else for that matter, reads Scripture he or she employs a hermeneutic method in order to determine and understand what the text is saying. Since Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and represents His self-revelation to man (Heb. 1:1-2) it is imperative that the reader correctly interprets its message. Also, since God has spoken it is not at all difficult to determine why; He desires to have mankind come to know Him. Once again it becomes clear that it is imperative that reader correctly interprets what has been written in order to not distort what God has said and thus distort who God is.
What effect does one’s hermeneutic have on discovering the biblical principles of the Christian’s spiritual life? One’s hermeneutic has an outstanding impact on how a Christian understands and goes about attempting to live the spiritual life. Although the Covenant Reformed and Dispensational views of the Spiritual life are similar in many ways the hermeneutic of each group serves to separate the two. What remains of this post will deal with that distinction from the Dispensational side of the argument.
Charles Ryrie has identified the sine qua non, or absolute essentials of Dispensationalism.[i] Two of these play key roles in reaching a Dispensational view of the Christian or spiritual life. Dispensationalism is first and foremost a system of biblical interpretation.[ii] This statement reflects the first of Ryrie’s essential elements. A Dispensationalist insists on using a consistent, literal or normal system of interpretation. The historical-grammatical hermeneutic system is not only the foundation of Dispensational theology it is the only way to gain a correct understanding of God’s message to man.
It is from the consistent use of a normal interpretation that the Dispensationalist reaches his theological conclusions. The same is true in regard to the subject of the spiritual life.
There are multiple reasons that this normal hermeneutic approach holds such influence over the development of the Dispensational view of the spiritual life. For our study, one reason will suffice. A major point of contention arises when discussing the topic of the carnal Christian. This is easily overcome by a normal interpretation of Scripture that is untainted by a theological system. It is clear from First Corinthians 2:14-3:3 that not only are there three divisions of men, but there are two divisions of Christians: those who are “spiritual” (2:15)[i] and those who “are still fleshly” (carnal). When this passage is viewed through the strict usage of a normal historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the proper view, just previously stated, becomes obvious. Upon the realization of the truth that a Christian can indeed be carnal (any moment when one steps out of God’s will becomes a moment of carnality at the very least) the admonitions from Paul to the Roman church begin to take on their true meaning (see Rom. 6:1-2, 11-13; 7:14-20; 8:1-39; Heb. 10:26-31 noticing the repeated use of “we” in the context). The belief that a Christian can be carnal, or, live according to or in obedience to his flesh presents a major distinction between the Covenant Reformed camp and the Dispensational camp. That is not to say that there aren’t Dispensationalists who would side more with the idea that a believer cannot live a sinful life for an extended period of time, nor am I saying that there does not exist a Covenant Reformed person who believes that a Christian can live in a sinful state for an extended period of time. However, most Covenant Reformed brothers would lean towards a, for lack of a better term, “lordship” view while many Dispensationalists would hold to a “free grace” view.
The consistent distinction between Israel and the Church is the second of the sine qua non that bears influence on this subject and is a product of the first. One may question how this could possibly influence any view of the spiritual life. The answer also leans heavily on a normal interpretation of Scripture particularly in the understanding of the subject of Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Robert Dean, Jr. describes this aspect of our discussion:
. . . because this model is based on a consistent literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the conclusions will also be consistent with the dispensational distinctive – a distinction between Israel and the church. Since one of the distinguishing characteristics between Israel and the church is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, especially in the spiritual life, we will discover that, despite protestations to the contrary, there truly is a view of the spiritual life that is dispensational.[ii]
Scripture clearly teaches that every Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling him as part of His multifaceted ministry in our lives. Paul drives this truth home when he states, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9b). However, Scripture also presents the truth that not every individual Old Testament believer had the Spirit and those who did at times fall under the influence of the Holy Spirit could just as quickly have the Spirit depart from them. This was obviously understood by King David as is attested by Psalm 51:11. David feared that the Spirit would depart from him because of his great personal sin and he pled with God, “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” As Mal Couch explains, “This does not imply a loss of salvation for David but it tells us David feared the Lord would no longer be using him as before.”[iii] On the other hand Christians in the present dispensation have no fear of the Spirit’s departure for Christ Himself promised, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16).
This distinction between Israel and the Church is another sharp contrast between the Covenant Reformed and Dispensationalist hermeneutics. Since Covenant Reformed theology leans heavily towards the idea that the Church is spiritual Israel, or that the Church is the extension of Old Testament Israel, or that the Church has replaced Israel altogether, there is a resultant lack of focus on the uniqueness of the Spirit’s presence within each individual Church-age believer. This is a totally new truth in God’s dealing with mankind. Never before has anything like this occurred in all of God’s plan in history. The fact that the Holy Spirit is freely given to each individual believer in this present age is a new and unique work of God, and serves to demonstrate only one of the marks that distinguishes the Church from Israel.
Therefore, by utilizing the grammatical-historical form of biblical interpretation it is discovered that there are major differences between Israel and the Church; the Spirit’s relationship with the Christian being only one. Unlike the Old Testament saint, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells each individual New Testament saint who then always has the ability to have access to the Spirit’s power and ministry. In particular, it is the ministry of the indwelling Spirit available to each individual believer that not only imparts life to the believer but also serves as the means by which the special and supernatural character of the Christian life may be experienced by every believer.
The result of utilizing the correct hermeneutic approach to Scripture is the correct understanding of what makes the spiritual life possible for the believer in time. Careful study reveals that the Church-age saint is not required to keep the Law of Moses – “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14); “…you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another…” (Rom. 7:4); “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). Those who do not consistently use the literal historical-grammatical hermeneutic tend to conflate Israel and the Church with the result being that the fulfillment of the spiritual life is seen in keeping commandments and outward obedience to rules and regulations. Grace tends to be set on the back burner and works, especially those measurable by outward means, indicate the spirituality of the believer. Intelligent and correct motives rarely, if ever, enter the equation.
It is the indwelling Spirit and His work in our lives that enables a Christian to live the supernatural life imposed by the word and will of God. When we understand that “it is God [the Spirit] who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) the pressure of trying to live by the power of our own flesh to fulfill His will begins to be lifted from our shoulders and our motivation to live obediently begins to change from “have to” to “want to.” As we dig further and find that our main activities in carrying out the spiritual life involve spiritual self-accounting – “Even so consider [calculate, charge to account] yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11) – reporting for duty – “but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13) – and allowing our minds to be transformed by the word of God – “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2) – we begin to be freed from the guilt of our inability to carry out God’s perfect will in our lives – “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24) – and find the ability through the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the word that transforms us – “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9), “Walk by [means of] the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh […] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16,25).”
Every one of these truths are discovered by utilizing the proper hermeneutic techniques apart from spiritualizing or allegorizing what the text says. Thus one should be able to see the importance of hermeneutics in the life of the everyday believer. One should also be able to see the importance of employing the literal historical-grammatical hermeneutic methodology.
I pray this helps. God bless.
Note: Portions of this article have been adapted from a chapter I was asked to write in honor of my mentor, Dr. Mal Couch, which will be found in the upcoming book, Evangelical Bible Doctrine.
[i]All Scripture quotations taken from the NASB unless otherwise noted.
[ii]Robert Dean, Jr., “Abiding in Christ: A Dispensational Theology of the Spiritual Life (Part 1),” CTS Journal 7, no. 1 (January-March 2001), http://chafer.edu/content.cfm?id=367#01 (accessed July 10, 2012).
[iii]Mal Couch, The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2001), 28.