Tom Gilson

The Holy Spirit and Christian Thinking

Last week I included the Holy Spirit on a list of resources for thinking Christianly, with this qualification:  

God is certainly not a “resource” in the same sense as the rest of this list, yet the list would be incomplete without him. We can’t progress in any form of discipleship apart from the Holy Spirit’s work.

You’ll notice I am using “discipleship of the mind” and “thinking Christianly” almost interchangeably here. They’re not really the same, though. One of them—discipleship—is prerequisite for the other. Discipleship is following and learning from Jesus Christ. Growing in our ability to think Christianly is one fruit of that learning.

Our dependence on the Holy Spirit cannot be overemphasized (distorted, yes; overemphasized, no). When I was a very young Christian, a friend shared with me how to be filled with the Spirit. He used a booklet at the time; you can read the same life-changing material online. I strongly recommend it to you as a preface to what I say here. It has made all the difference for me!

If there is a locus classicus for Christian thinking, it must be 1 Corinthians 2:6-16:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

I will only try to highlight the most relevant nuggets for our topic here. Paul speaks of a wisdom not of this age, decreed before the ages, which will not pass away. He calls it a “secret and hidden wisdom,” but it is not so in a gnostic sense (available only to the initiated few). When Paul writes of secrets and mysteries in his letters, almost always he is referring to something formerly hidden, now being made known. Thus he could say that he imparts this wisdom: it is something that can be passed along. And thus he can also say “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

Through the Spirit. The Spirit of God is he who guides Christ’s followers into all truth (John 14: 25, John 16:13). He “searches everything, even the depths of God,” which only God himself can plumb. To know God fully is God’s prerogative alone. Yet by his grace he has granted Christians the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. One of the Spirit’s purposes is to give us understanding. Paul even goes so far as to say “we have the mind of Christ”!

This contrasts with the experience of “the natural person,” the one without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the one (as it says shortly after in 1 Corinthians 3:3) who is “walking like mere men” (NASB translation). Christians, we do not need to live like mere humans! God lives within us, to guide us, teach us, empower us.

That is not to say that the Spirit pours knowledge into our brains unmediated. He can do that and does sometimes (rarely, in my experience), but normally, like everything else in the Christian life, there are disciplines associated with growth. In the case of Christian thinking, those disciplines include things like the list I posted last week. The Holy Spirit is not God’s shortcut to growth; he is our guide and helper along the path to growth.

(Some misunderstand 1 John 1:27 to mean we have literally no need of teaching, but that would be an odd stance for John to take in a letter that was clearly intended to teach. He was instead warning against certain claims of false teachers claiming to bring some proto-gnostic knowledge.)

So what does this mean in practical experience? (I refer you again to the message on how to be filled with the Spirit.) There must be a true desire in us to be filled by God and to follow where he leads. We must recognize our dependence on God, and confess our need for him, especially in light of our sin. Along with that we can gladly acknowledge that God is there for us: he loves us and is pleased to fulfill his promise to fill us with his Spirit. It’s a matter of knowing that it is his will (Ephesians 5:18) and that he will always answer when we pray according to his will (1 John 5:14-15).

From there it’s a matter of walking, not like mere humans, but still walking, a step at a time. As we study, God will reveal himself to us. Those of us who are walking that path know the truth of Jesus’ words (John 17:3) in his prayer to the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Series Navigation (Basic Discipleship of the Mind):<<< Ten Resources for Thinking ChristianlyThe Bible and Christian Thinking >>>

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