Is the Christian faith kinetic or static? Do our spiritual beliefs move or do they rest in neutral? Are we animated or passive as the followers of Jesus Christ? The answers to these questions are probably easy for us to discern. We understand by Scripture and by history that our theology comes bundled with a clear call to action from the Royal Throne. The Apostle James tells us several times that a faith which does not result in works is not genuine faith. I heard an old-time preacher once say, “A faith that saves is a faith that behaves.” Yes, we know that the Christian faith is not adequately represented by a mere set of theological statements or accepted creeds. Faith is alive and the source of that life is the omnipresent God who also happens to be the indwelling God. He moves, and because of that, so do the lives of those whom He inhabits.
During my most recent sermon series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, more than once I was asked about the presumed danger of speaking so much on the “personal experience” of the individual believer. I hope we all recognize that just because an experience is personal, it does not mean that experience is not subject to scrutiny. For some believers there is a concern that any focus on personal spiritual experience might serve to undermine an allegiance to God’s inspired and objective Word. In simpler terms, one’s experience is sometimes seen to be dangerous because it cannot always be objectively validated as being from God. Believe me, I understand the concern, because not all that is attributed to the Holy Spirit is consistent with the Holy Scriptures – I do not believe that the Holy Spirit can act in ways that conflict with the objective Word. Some people give unwarranted credit to the Spirit for things which He was not remotely connected with. I would also submit that the Scriptures do not disclose each and every way or work that might proceed from the Holy Spirit. He may act in ways that are not exemplified in Scripture but He will never act in ways that contradict Scripture. This premise leaves us without hard and fast rules by which we can predict or (dare I say?) control the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the idea of personal experience with God makes some in the Church uncomfortable.
So what then is the remedy? Do we deny the reality of personal experience with God and commit solely to an objective analysis of the Scriptures? Is it acceptable for a believer to have solid theology but no personal sense of living life with his/her God? My thought continues to be, “Where do those Scriptures that we treasure call us to choose between the objectivity of the Word and the subjectivity of personal experience?” Why do we feel the need to enter into an either/or dynamic? When I read my Bible it is clear to me that those Christians actually experienced what they believed. They were sometimes ambushed by an experience with God before they even had the capacity to analyze it or understand it. The most spectacular moments in the book of Acts were connected to prayer meetings, not theological studies. Nobody could say that their faith resided in their minds only. They were not caged within those early creeds. They delighted in truth but also experienced the personal interaction with the Living Christ. Why do we sense the presumed need in our day to relegate the supernatural & miraculous to the category of the theoretical? We should never sense pressure to affirm every supernatural experience that is attributed to God – heavens no! But neither should we have this knee-jerk reaction to scoff at or reject the whole of the miraculous and supernatural occurrences among Christ’s church.
It seems that we are eager to rejoice in all that God has imputed to us as Christians while struggling to confess that He has also imparted some things to us. We have imputed power (Philippians 4:13; Ephesians 3:16) but we are suspicious when someone displays that actual imparted power. We have imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21) but we seem uncomfortable at times at the mention of the impartation of righteousness which we can claim to break free from addictions and strongholds. We have an imputed position of sitting with Jesus Christ upon His eternal throne (Eph. 2:4-7) but we shrink back from declaring imparted authority over all that defies that throne. We acknowledge that our battle is not primarily natural but, rather, against invisible spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12); but then we get a little nervous when someone talks about battling against the demonic realm or engaging in overt spiritual warfare. I suppose what I am saying is that I see a danger amongst us whereby we talk about some spiritual realities in theory… but we do not speak as easily when it comes to actually living out those realities. Surely we are not embarrassed of the supernatural realities of our faith, are we?
Much more can be said (and should be and will be, Lord willing) on this issue. My goal is to really call those who hear or read my words to think critically about what we say we believe. Let us not give religious lip service to spiritual truths and then retreat when it comes to clarifying what it means to live out these realities on a 24/7 basis. If we say we believe it, then let’s live it. If we say we believe it, let’s work through it. If we say we believe it, let’s not put it on such a high theological shelf that others can reach it and unpack it for themselves as they live for Christ. Perhaps our failure to do this is why so many professing Christians are in bondage. They are trying to live out the spiritual life via natural resources and are experiencing year after year of defeat in their faith, their marriages, their ministries, their bodies, their emotions and their relationships. Maybe we have cut ourselves off from rescuing resources which God offers us.
Let’s get honest about the Christian faith: it is a wholly supernatural existence defined by objective truth from God’s word and lived out in a life that has many natural elements. It did not merely begin for you with a supernatural event called the New Birth. It will not merely end for you with a supernatural reality called glorification. Between the supernatural New Birth and the supernatural glorification of the saints is the supernatural life which is described as walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ, being renewed in the spirit of your mind, being fashioned into the likeness of the glorious Christ and being sanctified by the Spirit. There are dozens of other descriptors in God’s word which make it impossible to deny that the Christian faith is not one primarily of logic and reason but, more accurately, one of supernatural life and power.
And we should not be embarrassed or ashamed to proclaim this.