Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29).
Spirit baptism has been a defining experience in my discipleship to Jesus Christ. I remember the night well. I was sixteen, angry, wounded, and insecure. I had just attended a Pentecostal worship service and had responded to the pastor’s invitation to receive Spirit baptism. Nothing happened to me when the pastor prayed.
That night, alone in my room, I cried out to God for his presence. Around midnight I experienced the Spirit’s power and presence in an intense and overwhelming way. It wasn’t “speaking in tongues” that impressed me—I felt overwhelmed by the direct experience of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, healing, assurance, hope, joy, and empowering presence. Since that time, I have had a strong desire to know the transforming, empowering presence of the Spirit.
Recently, a good friend introduced me to the work of R.T. Kendall, a pastor and writer who pastored Westminster Chapel for 25 years. He is the author of more than 50 books, and an engaging writer and communicator.
I don’t agree with everything R.T. Kendall writes, and I don’t always agree with his interpretation of Scripture. But his primary thesis has struck me forcefully: There has been a “silent divorce” in the church between Word and Spirit, and these must be brought back together for the church to be healthy and biblical. Today, the church must recover the power of the combined and inseparable Word and Spirit.
I can see the separation R.T. Kendall is talking about, in my own life and experience of the church. I came to faith in Pentecostalism and spent years experiencing the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in prophecy, spiritual passion, healings, boldness for witness, and expectant faith. But the attention to sound biblical knowledge and interpretation was often weak. I then moved across to Evangelical churches and spent years experiencing solid teaching, expository preaching, sound interpretation, and a high view of Scripture. But the attention to the power and presence and leading and renewal of the Holy Spirit was often non-existent or weak. In other words, I experienced first-hand the effects of the separation of Word and Spirit in the church.
So, I’ve been asking myself more and more lately, “How can we bring the Word and the Spirit back together, so that Christians can know the life-changing, world-transforming effects of God’s truth and power?”
Here are four ways we can do this.
1. Seek to know both the Scriptures and the power of God
In Matthew 22:23–33, Jesus is engaging the Sadducees in a debate about marriage at the resurrection. He hits these religious leaders hard with these words: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” It’s clear that Jesus thinks that these religious leaders don’t even know what the Scriptures say about the resurrection, let alone the power of God to do supernatural, astonishing, world-transforming things.
Their errors of biblical interpretation and superficial, corrupted faith arise directly from the fact that they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Yet, Jesus knew both. In verse 33, we see that the crowds were “astonished” (amazed) when they heard him (as in Luke 9:43 and Acts 3:10). Jesus had the ability to amaze with his words as easily as with his signs and wonders – both produced the same reaction. This is because Jesus walked in the power of the Word and the Spirit. We must seek to know both too.
2. Seek to integrate the Word and the Spirit, in faith and life
The Spirit does not only mean miracles, signs, and wonders. Neither does the Word only mean exposition and doctrine. That would be drawing the distinction too sharply – the 2 are integrated and expressed together.
Christians discover life and God’s empowering presence when they integrate Word and Spirit in every part of their community, witness, and life. God is honored and glorified when two things coalesce – the Scriptures and the power of God – these cannot be kept apart or in isolation. Bringing the two together sets a fire in the heart of believers and the church – it ignites the mission, hope, faith, love, community, joy, and witness of God’s people.
Some theologians say that you cannot divide the Word and the Spirit. In one sense, this is true. But in another sense, it is possible to deliver the Word without the power of the Spirit, and vice versa.
Jesus said that the Sadducees were ignorant of both Word and power – but with some, in the present day, it is either ignorance of one or the other. Some detect heresy or cold orthodoxy a mile away, but can’t see what is missing in their own tradition. Neither of these emphases on Spirit or Word is wrong, but they must be married together!
If almost 30 years of ministry have taught me anything, it’s that sound doctrine, expository preaching, and a high view of Scripture is critical – but we must also recover spiritual vitality and power; the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. These two must not only coincide; they must be integrated and inseparable.
Our churches and ministries will continue to struggle while we neglect either one or the other. The church will continue to struggle until it is not either one or the other, but passionate and committed to both Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s power.
3. Seek to relinquish spiritual pride and an unteachable spirit
It can be hard to get Pentecostals (or charismatic and renewalist movements) to learn from Evangelicals (Word-centered movements), and vice versa. Both sides often think they are right and have nothing to learn from the other. But, we need to relinquish this spiritual pride, isolationism, and unteachable spirit.
The Sadducees said that there is no resurrection of the body. They had little respect for the prophetic or the power of God. They embraced a dead, legalistic orthodoxy. They were determined to claim that their doctrinal distinctives were correct and that Jesus of Nazareth was to be ignored.
But, Jesus says that this kind of religiosity is a deception. To be honest, you see this religiosity and spiritual pride expressed in both Spirit-movements and Word-movements. Jesus said that they were in error because they were “deceived” – they, arrogantly, thought they were right; but they did not really know the Scriptures or the power of God.
God wants nothing to do with spiritual pride – neither pride in one’s spiritual power nor pride in one’s biblical orthodoxy.
The unteachable spirit and religious pride of the Sadducees led to ignorance – they weren’t even acquainted with what they proposed to be experts on. Here’s something that worries me greatly. We have a generation of people who don’t really know their Bibles and a generation who are equally ignorant of God’s power. We must address this issue, and it begins with relinquishing academic, evangelical, or pentecostal pride (all forms of spiritual pride!), and embracing teachable hearts and humility.
4. Seek to live daily in the life-changing, world-transforming power of the Spirit and the Word
As a former pastor and now teacher at a theological college, I need to ask myself constantly: “Am I seeking to experience and live in the power and presence of God? Does God’s empowering presence infuse and enliven and animate my teaching? And is this desire for God’s power and presence truly integrated with a passion for God’s Word?”
I think we all need to ask ourselves these kinds of questions, regularly.
Living in the power of the Word and Spirit isn’t just about biblical study and confidence in Scripture, or about signs and wonders and the gifts of the Spirit. Living in the life of the Word and Spirit is about fighting injustice, confronting exploitation, caring for creation, welcoming the stranger, and seeing the Spirit in art and beauty and culture and creation. It is about confronting issues of race, prejudice, discrimination, and reconciliation.
Living in the power of the Word and Spirit is about expressing the fruit of the Spirit, being generous and content, caring for the poor and broken, and loving our enemies. Living in the power of the Word and Spirit is about embracing the radical social ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. It is about being a people who live lives (together and in the world) that alert people to the universal rule and reign of God. It’s about letting go of old dichotomies (Word–Spirit, sacred-secular, proclamation–social justice, and so on), and embracing the integral and integrative life of the Spirit. It’s about living in a posture of discernment and attention: keeping in step with the Spirit, and walking in daily dependence on his leading and presence and power.
What happens when Christians embrace both Word and Spirit? God is glorified, lives are transformed, mission is accomplished, community is revitalized, and the church experiences, afresh, God’s empowering presence (his holy, purifying, true, emboldening, and transforming presence).