After three posts and more than 4,000 words on the Old Testament (OT), you’re finally going look at the NT, Right?
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me that question in the past couple of weeks. (I really can’t, because nobody has.) But such inquiries, had they occurred, would definitely not have been off-base. I never imagined when I started Going Into OT that we’d stay there for three very long posts.
But I’m glad we did. It was interesting and instructive for me, and I hope some of you got something out of it as well. Hopefully, the same will be true (and hopefully, even truer) for the NT sub-series.
Only one way to find out:
As I said a couple of posts ago, the word ‘spirit’ occurs 370 in the New Testament – nearly twice as often as in the Old. The book that uses it the most is Acts (67 times), which makes sense when you consider the subject matter of this book, and the fact that it’s the longest book in the NT. The (Other) S-Word occurs 44 times in 1 Corinthians – making it the second-most spiritual book in the New Testament (and the whole Bible, for that matter).
The author of Acts is Luke, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke. The author of 1 Corinthians is Paul, who also wrote the Lion’s (and Lamb’s) share of the Epistles – letters from the apostles to their apprentices and the churches they founded and/or pastored. Between the two of them, these two authors are responsible for two-thirds of the uses of the (Other) S-Word in the New Testament, so I think it’s worth starting our NT study with a quick look at some of what Luke and Paul had to say about the Spirit (as in the third Person of the Trinity), spirits (as in angels and demons) and/or spirits (as in booze). But for now, to ensure we don’t focus too heavily on Acts and 1 Corinthians, let’s set these two works aside and look at Luke’s Gospel, and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
Luke hits the (Other) S-Word hard and strong right out of the gate, using it seven times in the first chapter of his Gospel alone. I wonder if he did this to help clearly establish from the outset that the accounts contained in his Gospel are not random human happenstance, they are God-breathed, divinely ordained events, and they are going somewhere.
With the OT series still reverberating in my consciousness, the Luke 1 ‘spirit’ reference that strikes me hardest is Verse 17:
And he (John the Baptist) will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
I love that both Elisha and John are, at different points in the Bible, both identified as successors to Elijah, by virtue of the fact that they’re both given the spirit of Elijah. Which one is the real heir? I think the answer is ‘yes’.
After Chapter 1, Luke continues to drop the (Other) S-Word liberally throughout his Gospel – making no attempt to ‘save’ the word for the really important passages, or to find synonyms to prevent monotony. (His journalism professors would likely have waggled their fingers at him for this infraction.)
But somehow, despite the repetition, it doesn’t feel like he goes to this well too often. At no time do we tire of all the uses of the word ‘spirit’ in Luke’s Gospel (or throughout the New Testament, for that matter). In fact, I think it’s fair to say that no other word will do.
As a word guy, I find the fact that there’s no synonym for spirit in this text analogous to the reality that there’s no substitute for Spirit in our lives. Thankfully, the Spirit of God is always available, and He’s utterly inexhaustible.
If it’s kosher to pick a favorite Pauline epistle, mine is Galatians – partly because it scolds Christians for still caring about what’s kosher and what’s not.
And as we look at the (Other) S-Word in Paul’s writing, Galatians is a great place to start. The whole book is around 3,000 words long (roughly three Disciplehood posts), and its six short chapters are packed with 17 uses of this word. But more importantly, the book’s primary function is to confront the members of the Galatian church for putting too much stock in the temporal and not enough in the spiritual:
‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?’ – Galatians 3:1-3
This letter, like a lot of the epistles in the NT, is a little tough to understand on its own. Since it’s really only one half of a conversation, a lot of the background and context needs to be inferred. What I think I understand is that the Galatians, after converting to Christianity and embracing salvation by grace, had apparently been led astray into thinking they also needed to undergo circumcision and perhaps other Jewish customs outlined in the Mosaic Law – in order to be saved.
Paul, clearly exasperated with the regression, meticulously outlines the error of this salvation-by-works theology, reminding the Galatians (and us) of the mind-blowing truth that ‘… If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.’ ‘ Galatians 5:18
Not under the law? Woo-hoo! Party time! … Right, Baldy?
Well, yes – as long as you remember that the ‘not under the law’ stuff doesn’t apply until you’re inside the category of ‘led by the Spirit’ first. Once that’s true, let the good times roll!
OK … But, Baldy, how do I know whether I’m being led by the Spirit, rather than by the flesh?
We tend to like to complicate this question, don’t we? But unfortunately for our excuse-making sinful nature (another term for ‘flesh’ in some translations of the Bible), it’s really pretty simple.
Not easy, by any means. But simple.
Paul even uses the word ‘obvious’ when spelling it out in this iconic passage:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:19-23
Now, let’s get out there and bear some fruit.
Peace be with you.