February 8, 2011 Matt Pennock

People of the Book or People of the Spirit?

The Jews have been historically regarded as the “people of the book”. This is because of the strict adherence to the written code. It was held authoritatively above all matters of life and conduct. Because it is a noble thing to adhere to the Holy Scriptures, Paul teaches something unique about the those who choose to follow Jesus and become a Christian:

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)

What does this mean for us as Christians? Is the Bible less important now that we are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in us? The fallacy of some in the Church is to dichotomize the Spirit and the written word into two separate elements. What we have to remember is the nature and the essence of the Word of God itself and profound mystery that it is. The Word of God is the second person of the triune Godhead: Father, Son, Holy Spirit:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

It is unusual and hard to comprehend how the Word is equated with the person of Christ yet this is the truth of John 1. He is the “Godspeak”. Thus, when God breathes out text what do we have? The material Word, a holy text. That is, it is “Godspeak” in material form. Now if there is a visible, material word then there must be an invisible, immaterial word for what is on the mouth has already been on the heart (Matt. 12:34). This is how we understand bearing false witness (Exo. 20:16), when the words of your lips (or paper or computer screen) do not match the words on your heart:

Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him. (Jer 9:8)

One of the most revealing statements about the Bible comes from Jesus himself:

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

Pay attention to the word “key” in this text. The Bible is a key. In that sense, we learn that it is not an end in itself. It is meant to unlock the doorway to something much bigger. Another important verse is the following:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Pay attention to the word “equipped” in this text. The role of the Bible is to equip us for serving in the new way of the Spirit (good works). See His Word is Pure for more on this.

The Spirit as the Heart of the Gospel

On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit ushered in the age of the Church, everything changed. The gospel was complete and Christianity had begun. To better understand the nature of our faith (and Romans 7:6) we will need to take a close look at several scriptures.

You will be changed into another person.

Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (1 Samuel 10:6)

You will know the thoughts of God.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12 ESV)

But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him’. But God has, through the Spirit, let us share his secret. For nothing is hidden from the Spirit, not even the deep wisdom of God. For who could really understand a man’s inmost thoughts except the spirit of the man himself? How much less could anyone understand the thoughts of God except the very Spirit of God? And the marvellous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God’s generosity towards us. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12 Phillips)

You will have focus on God.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)

You will put to death the works of the body.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

You will be a son/daughter of God.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

You will pray with power.

But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; (Jude 1:20)

You will know you are in Christ and Christ is in you.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

You will be convicted.

…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:5)

You will be sealed.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)

You will reap eternal life.

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)

The connection with faith.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18)

Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)

Consider the emphatic exhortation of the New Testament writers to live life in the Spirit. We are to walk by the Spirit, pray with the Spirit, speak by the Spirit, preach by the Spirit, prophesy by the Spirit, exercise the laying on of hands imparting the Spirit, live by the Spirit, partake of the one Spirit, be unified by the Spirit, be reconciled to God by the Spirit, be empowered by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and to serve God by the Spirit. Again, the goal of a Christian community is to seek the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God consists of joy, peace, righteousness in the Holy Spirit.

  • Galatians 5:16
  • Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3,8
  • 1 Peter 1:12
  • 1 Samuel 10:6; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 14:1
  • Romans 8:13, Galatians 5:25
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13
  • Ephesians 4:3
  • Ephesians 2:18
  • 1 Corinthians 12:11
  • Acts 13:52, Ephesians 5:18
  • Romans 7:6
  • Romans 14:17

The Bible as the Key

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:37-40)

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:52)

…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:17)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

In conclusion, we can see how Christians are called to be a people of the Spirit. Before Jesus Christ came around to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and pave the way for the Spirit and mankind to unite as one, those who followed God were regarded as the people of the Book because this was all they had. They did not fully understand that the book was a key to a completely different religious universe—that of the very Spirit of God. Paul reveals this truth to us in these words:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath [the written code]. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance [the heart of it] belongs to Christ [to whom we belong by through the Spirit]. (Col 2:16-17)

We are taken beyond the written code into the very heart of God behind the code by his Spirit, which is made possible only by the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. Thus we are no longer subject to the written code, but instead something more awesome: God’s heart itself. Yet the written code is not thrown in the trash, because after all, God wrote it and thus it is useful for correction [not lording] as Paul writes (2 Tim 3:16-17).

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