There is no “ordinary” Christian life without the power and help and mercy of the Holy Spirit. The basic patterns, practices, rhythms, and direction of the Christian life are anything but natural and anything but ordinary. Being and living as a Christian are works of God; God the Holy Spirit. In the Christian life, ordinary things are extraordinary.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been preaching through a series on what the Bible says about the present-day ministry of the Holy Spirit; how the Holy Spirit works today. As I’ve been coursing through the teaching of the New Testament on the ongoing works of the Spirit, what has stuck out to me are the repeated connections made in Scripture between the work of the Holy Spirit and what we might regard as the ordinary patterns and practices of the Christian life. When we compare the emphasis of Scripture in regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit to many (most?) of the ideas that tend to prevail in contemporary Christian teaching on the work of the Spirit however, there is a great deal of dissonance between them.
As I see it, the two most common errors in much contemporary teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit, which discount the Holy Spirit’s work in the ordinary patterns and practices of the Christian life, and which give rise to a good deal of eccentricity among Christians in their understanding of the present-day work of the Spirit, are these:
Error 1: Relegating the Spirit’s work in the Christian life primarily to extraordinary and miraculous experiences. And,
Error 2: Separating the Spirit’s works virtually entirely from the works of the Father and the Son.
Let’s compare these ways of thinking to what Scripture emphasizes when it comes to the present-day work of the Holy Spirit.
Should we relegate the Spirit’s work to extraordinary experiences?
When Christians in contemporary evangelical (using that term very loosely here) settings talk about the work of the Holy Spirit, what kinds of activities or events do they typically identify as evidence of his work? In my experience, it is things like words of fresh revelation, healings, intense emotional experiences, weeping, laughing, visions, and things like these, most of the time.
You see this way of thinking in the way that many Christians regard the basic patterns and practices of the Christian life – things like learning to trust God, walking in an abiding relationship with Jesus, remembering and meditating on the Gospel daily, reading and engaging with Scripture, obeying God’s Word by living a sanctified life, seeking God in prayer, living in Christ-centered relationships with other Christians in the same local church, serving in the church, sharing the Gospel, etc. – as if these are things that can be done by mere grit and determination. These are the things we are responsible for. The Spirit, on the other hand, is the one who does all the extra things we long to see and experience; the really exciting stuff, that is.
Many Christians treat the basic patterns of the Christian life as if they all can be done and benefitted from by way of sheer discipline and exertion of the will – and so, without the power and help of the Holy Spirit. But this is wrong. They cannot. No one can do these things with the right motives and in a way that leads to spiritual growth and good fruit without the Holy Spirit. It is God who works in us both to will and to work according to his good pleasure, after all (Philippians 2:13).
So then, even the ordinary, basic patterns, habits, rhythms, and practices of the Christian life are the work of the Holy Spirit. I think many Christians could benefit from being reminded of this. The emphasis on Scripture when it comes to the ongoing work of the Spirit, is heavily weighted on the side of “ordinary” Christian patterns and practices. For example,
It is the Spirit who convinces us of our sin and our need for Christ. (John 16:7-11)
It is the Spirit who renovates our hearts (makes us born again) in order to enable us to respond to the Gospel with faith in Christ. (John 3:1-10)
It is the Spirit who enables us to grasp and love the revelation he gives us in the Gospel and the text of Scripture. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
It is the Spirit who convinces us internally that we are God’s redeemed children by reminding us of and helping us continue to believe the Gospel. (Romans 8:13-17)