Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Spirit, Our Ministries and Hearts Out of Control

What role does the Holy Spirit and His guidance play in the dreams we have for our ministries?  Certainly the Word of God should guide how we do ministry and make our plans.  However, considering the fact that we have an incredible ability to find Scriptures which justify just about anything and everything we do, we must ask ourselves the question, "What of the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  What if we exegete the text properly, but we apply the text out of a sinful motivation which originates in our hearts? 

I am throwing this out there for discussion and the consideration of readers of this blog: it's possible and in some cases, likely, that what we claim we are doing for the Lord we are really only doing for ourselves.  Motive is a slippery thing to nail down.  I am beginning to believe that motive ought to be the first thing we self examine whenever we embark on new ministry.  It is also something we ought to examine throughout the entire course of our ministries.  It's possible to start well, but finish poorly. 

All of this comes to mind as I am studying the nature of what the Bible calls the "heart."  The heart, Biblically speaking, is the center of our intellect, emotions and will.  The Bible doesn't have much good to say about the heart, in spite of every Disney movie you have ever seen with the inevitable ballad about the human spirit and its invincibility and the endless encouragements to just "follow your heart", "be true to your heart", etc., etc., ad nauseum.  Follow that advice and you will end up in the psych ward. 

Ecclesiastes 9:3 says that the hearts of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts while they live.  God wiped out the entire planet (minus one family) because, "every imagination of the thoughts of his [mankind's] heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5).  After the flood, God declared of man that, "...the imagination of his heart is only evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21).  Of the few things it is said that God hates, one of them is "...a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations" (Proverbs 6:18).  It's all summed up with Jeremiah 17:9 which says, "...the heart is deceitful above all things; who can know it?".  A rhetorical question with an obvious answer: NO ONE. So you still want to "follow your heart"? 

Because of all of this unreliability and unpredictability of the human heart, the Scriptures warn, "...keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). 

With all of this in mind, consider this quote on human nature and ministry from T. Austin Sparks. 

"A forceful, dominating, assertive soul, not under the government of the Holy Spirit, is a terrible menace to the interests of God.  Decisions will be made, courses adopted, objectives secured, positions occupied, in the name of devotion to God.which will be Towers of Babel, Pyramids of Egypt, Ishmaels of Abram (not Abraham).  There will be a good deal of remorse bound up with these achievements eventually, and a wish that they had never been.  The result will be something false, and many may be involved in the tragedy."  (What is Man?  89)

Sparks' words here are loaded, especially if you have ever been guilty of creating one of these Towers of Babel in the guise of ministry.  The truth of what he's saying is undeniable if you've ever witnessed one of these tragedies.  The ultimate safeguard is the filling of the Holy Spirit.  When we are led by Him and not our ambitions, we are safe.  When we use spiritual things to accomplish our fleshly ends, we are in grave danger.  And, as Sparks says, "many may be involved in the tragedy."  People will be hurt.

There is not a ministry style invented which is not susceptible.  Whether you are talking about the local church or a parachurch ministry, leaders who are not under the leadership of the Spirit of God are a "menace to the interests of God."  Why?  If you are not being led by the Spirit, you are being led by your heart and that never turns out for the glory of God or the good of His people.

This is why we must not become overly enamored with our own "good ideas."  The conference circuit is full of men who have come up with good ideas with thin proof-texts that have "worked."  Christians line up to buy their books and DVD's.  Many aspire to come up with some profitable good idea so that others will buy their product.  American Christianity and marketing are virtually synonymous right now.  It is as if the Spirit of God cannot lead the average American pastor through the Word of God unless we have some evangelical pope or Magisterium to tell us what we really ought to be doing.  Our God given resources are not enough.  It's easier to buy someones program than it is to get leading from the Holy Spirit.  

The early church in Acts waited for the Spirit of God to move before they moved.  We move and hope the Spirit of God will catch up to us and bless our plans, as if He owes us something.  We do need to keep our hearts will all diligence and part of that keeping is yielding to the Spirit of God. 


12 comments:

reconnaissance said...

Jon this maybe a little off topic but how would you harmonize the fact that the scriptures says we have the mind of christ and that we have been giving a new heart?

Jon Speed said...

recon,

It's not off topic at all. It's something I am working on in my own Christian life and in my study of the issue of the heart.

Here's the problem I run into. Christians still sin (Romans 7). When some claim that we have a new heart they say it as if it means we no longer sin. All you have to do is sit back and observe and it's not long before they prove themselves wrong.

However, the Scriptures do clearly say we have new hearts IF we are in Christ. Verses like Luke 6:45; Ephesians 4:24; 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Pet. 1:4 spell this out. So your question or point is well taken.

We are never told as Christians to do the Disney thing and "follow our hearts" as a source of guidance. In fact, Proverbs 28:26 says that the person who does that is a fool. Our "heart" (the seat of our intellect, emotions and will), which is very closely tied to the concept of "soul" and which is influenced by our "conscience" are all able to be educated. In our intellect we still rationalize sin. In our emotions, we can still be deceived. And frankly, we choose to sin because we want to. So while the heart is regenerated, it is not perfect. Anyone who says it is has frankly been deceived.

Thus, the need for the filling of the Holy Spirit, which is attended by time in the Word, prayer, fellowship in the church, worship, etc. (Eph. 5:18-19). If obedience is our default setting for Christians, entire passages like Ephesians 5 and entire Pauline epistles would have been left out of the Bible.

Jon Speed said...

What I mean by that last sentence is that a "new heart" does not equate with "a perfectly obedient heart."

reconnaissance said...

I'm tempted to say so whats the point of a new heart if we can trust it? ooops I just said it. However it's good that we still have to rely on God. It cuts out all the boasting.

Jon Speed said...

recon,

It sounds like you are processing this like I am. For the sake of discussion, if we have a new heart which is absolutely trustworthy, how would you explain the existence of sin in a believer? Better yet, how would you explain James 1:13-15? Not trying to be argumentative, BTW, just working through this and I'm interested in your thoughts on it.

reconnaissance said...

Jon,

A lot of these concepts are really strange to me. Paul says we are saved buy yet we are being saved. I believe that in principle, what ever that may mean, we do have a perfectly obedient heart. However, in practice we don't. I think that the truth that we have a new heart is real but not fully real. That is, it is being realized daily.

Jon Speed said...

recon,

I think part of the problem is our tendency to consider the heart something concrete when it is really abstract. The metaphor of the word "heart" can be a bit confusing because we think of the muscle which pumps blood through our bodies which is a concrete thing. But the "heart" as a metaphor is the center of our intellect, emotions and will. This is much more abstract.

When we say we have a new heart, I think we're tempted to view that as something concrete, but the transformation of intellect, emotion and will isn't concrete. Our emotions, though regenerated, still lead us to sin. Our thinking, though regenerated, is not always perfect. Our decisions most definitely are not always made in the context of regeneration.

If we have a "perfectly obedient heart" as believers, but then say "in practice we don't", I think we're suggesting a dualism that allows someone's will (decision making) to be transformed but who does not make actual decisions in alignment with the Word of God. So in what way would such a heart be described as "perfectly obedient"?

While I am willing to say that we have a regenerated heart, I don't think it equates to a perfectly obedient heart. A regenerated heart is a heart that contains new desires, but we are constantly tempted with the old. A regenerated heart has the laws of God written on it (Jeremiah 31:33) but it does not follow that the power to always obey those laws comes automatically. If it did, we could hold to sinless perfectionism with a good conscience, but the Scriptures nowhere state that believers automatically become sinless at salvation. And, as I mentioned above, James 1:13-15, which is addressed to believers (see the word "brethren" in 1:16), makes it clear that the source of our sin is not from without but within.

Therefore, a regenerated heart, while full of new life, is not perfect. I suspect that the only difference is that now, as believers, we have the ability to choose to obey God whereas before, as unbelievers, we did not have that ability. Our intellect, emotions, and will need to be constantly yielded to the influence of the Holy Spirit or else we will fall.

reconnaissance said...

Jon,

How does this sound "righteous sinner"?

or

"evil saint"?

Doesnt paul call believers saints?

Where is a believer ever called a sinner?

If I stand righteous before God, how can I be called a sinner?

remember we are saints but yet we are being
made saints.

Perfect yet we are being perfected.

Your thoughts.


Jon Speed said...

recon,

I'm trying to get a bead on where you are coming from. I am wrestling with the whole counsel of God on the nature of our hearts. They are renewed yet not perfect. Are you holding to some form of sinless perfectionism?

reconnaissance said...

Jon,

No. we are being made perfect.

But why didn't Paul call any in the churches sinners?


Jon Speed said...

recon,

Positionally, in Christ we are seen as saints, a holy nation, royal priesthood. In experience this works out in real sanctification (practical or progressive). I don't recall saying that we are primarily sinners. We do sin.

reconnaissance said...

Then we are in agreement.