"...the bible tells me so"
What if I told you that the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me”, is a propaganda tool promoting a rationalist stance toward the Bible and subtly communicating that the Bible is not living, not active, not in need of the agency of the Holy Spirit to understand it. Rather, this song conveys that the truths of the Bible are arrived at by the applications of certain prescribed principles (hermeneutics), and a working knowledge of the original languages (primarily Hebrew and Greek) that leads to an intellectual assent to said truths. In short, although the Bible is unique in its origin - God breathed, inspired by God - it is a book to be studied and dissected using our rational mind and intellect and not by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.
You may be thinking “Slow down, Larry, and take a deep breath, for it sounds like you are saying the song “Jesus Loves Me” is part of a diabolical conspiracy to eviscerate the role of the Spirit in the study of scripture and the life of the Church.” To which I would respond, “Okay, I admit that sounds a bit crazy when you say it out loud”, but that is what I am saying - although I would take a step back from calling it a diabolical conspiracy, for I see it is more as the love child of Enlightenment thinking and Christian belief.
Let’s let the words of the song speak for themselves: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so….yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so” (emphasis added). Now, I have sung that song, encouraged others to sing that song on countless occasions. But in hindsight I now see it as heretical and unorthodox, for it deviates from the simple truth found in Romans 8 where Paul pens these words: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…” It is not the Bible but the Spirit that declares it to be so – the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit!
The Bible tells us nothing in and of itself in a way that changes us, but it is the Holy Spirit that reveals to us who we are, convinces us of our new relationship as a child of God, that we are loved by God. Yes, the Holy Spirit uses the Bible but without the Spirit the Bible is another book; “but” when energized by the Spirit the words of the Bible become alive, living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12). It is the Spirit who uses the words of the Bible to communicate to our spirit the veracity of the scriptures, converting and transforming us in the process.
Now the reason I have my panties in a bunch about all this is that I have recently experienced first hand the destructive nature of solely using the intellect to interact with the Bible. Interacting solely intellectually with God’s word is a way devoid, even antagonistic, to the role of the Holy Spirit in Bible study and the need to have an internal posture of listening to God. This purely intellectual stance cuts the heart out of the Christian life, neutralizing the relational aspect of life with Jesus. The Christian faith is reduced to studying the Bible, seeking to apply the truths of the Bible, seeking to determine what the Bible says, rather than opening ourselves up to God and seeking to listen for/to the voice of the One who calls us by name, the One who will lead us and guide us using the Holy Spirit. Our faith becomes, in the first case, a course of study, a morality to be lived out and not a relationship.
The irony of the song Jesus Loves Me is that it is naming and celebrating the relational aspect that is the heart and soul of our Christian faith, the ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus who loves us and make us strong when we are weak – but implies this relational component is a matter of doctrine, the Bible says it, so I believe it, rather than a truth that has been communicated to us in a personal way through the Holy Spirit that indwells us and in fact is the agent of that very love (Romans 5:5).
It is only as we begin to own and embrace the role of the Spirit in enabling us to hear and understand the voice of Jesus and the truths of the Bible, that we may begin to understand what Jesus meant when he stated that it was better for the disciples for him (Jesus) to leave so the Holy Spirit would come. The Holy Spirit is gift that leads us into truth, understanding, and transformation into Christlikeness, and connects us to/with the living presence of Jesus.
For years in my Christian life, I was distrustful of those who emphasized the Spirit’s role, for I was well aware of the abuses that had been perpetrated on others in the name of the Spirit. I was aware of the dangers of encouraging people to be open to the Spirit, to seek to be led by the Spirit, for now there would be a subjective element involved and people can be and are easily duped. But now I see that in my pharisaical drive to keep people safe I removed the possibility of a dynamic, growing, real time relationship with God, and replaced it with the sterile study of God’s word and the application of God’s truth – supplanting the relationship that God made available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the key to living the Christian life, whether we are reading the Bible, seeking to partner with what God is doing in us and through us, praying or ministering to another, for without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing.
Now it is time for you to reflect:
What feelings have arisen as you read the words above?
What caused resistance to spring up within you? What were you uncomfortable with? What, if anything, did you resonate with? What caused you to pause and think? What was God saying to you as you read those words?
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in your life? Why?
What is your level of comfort when it comes to being led by the Spirit? Why?
Is your Christian life characterized more as a Bible study or a relationship with Jesus? Why?
I leave you the following passages to reflect on, to use as a means to open yourself up to God, the ministry and teaching of the Spirit, asking yourself as you read this passage what might God be saying to you about the role of the Spirit in your own life? What words or phrases bring to the surface something within you (what draws you, what surfaces resistance, encouragement, love, faith, hope…).
… “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Cor 2:9-16
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him…For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Roman 8:9, 14
Final Note: I do not believe this is an either/or (either a study of God’s word or dependency on the Holy Spirit) but a both/and reality. It is important to handle accurately the word of God, to know it, to study it, to hide it within our hearts. But this cannot solely be an exercise of the mind but involves the mind, the heart and the Spirit – not necessarily in that order. Even the Psalmist asks for help when it came to interacting with God’s word: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Ps 119:18) and as New Testament believers we have the Spirit within us to do just that. Thank you Jesus.
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