"If Christians have the Holy Spirit, why don't all of them want to grow?" -- A question from a friend
Why do some Christians seem to live with more spiritual sense and some never grow out of infancy? Why is the desire more profound than for others? Why do some people seem to have a deeper revelation while others speak of being a Christian but bear no fruit? Free will I guess. I just feel like there is more to it than that.
What about regeneration? If our eyes have been open and we are truly regenerated then wouldn't there be a change in everyone? Maybe not at the same pace. I feel like the spiritual side of us is the only thing that can understand the things of God right? It's foolishness to the world. So if we are regenerated, would not the spirit have new revelation? In the parable of the sower were the ones that got choked by the thorns etc, were they never really regenerated?
These are great questions. Let me commence by exploring some points about the Holy Spirit. I do this because I wonder if you assume some roles to the Spirit that are not attributed in the Bible. (I've spoken elsewhere on what the Spirit does and doesn't do. Click here to read it.)
In the OT,
· God’s Spirit can be the source of life to creatures (e.g., Gen 1:2; 27; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30; Isa. 40:13). It seems that God’s ruach (= “breath/spirit”) grants life by joining with a creature’s body (and after it does, they call it a nephesh = soul).
· God’s Spirit can be the source of wisdom or knowledge to perform particular tasks God wants (e.g., Exod 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Job 32:8; Isa. 11:2; Ezek 36:26-27). That is, God enables them to get His job done.
· God’s Spirit can be the source of prophecy (e.g., Numb 11:25; 24:2; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 2 Sam 23:2; Ezek. 11:5). Remember, to prophesy means “to speak on someone’s behalf.” It does not mean “to tell the future.” Therefore, here, one of the roles of the Spirit is to use a human as a communication device, like God picking up a phone to speak to someone. Prophets are the telephone.
· God’s Spirit can be the source of strength and courage (e.g., Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29).
In Second Temple Judaism (ca. 515 BC to 70 AD), God’s Spirit is almost always used in relation to a person’s capacity to prophesy.
In the New Testament, John R. Levison helpfully summarizes:
“The spirit teaches (e.g., Lk 12:12; Jn 14:25-26), speaks (e.g., Jn 16:13; Acts 8:29), testifies (Acts 20:23 [through prophets]; Jn 15:26 [along with the disciples]; Heb 10:15 [through scripture]), leads (Gal 5:18; Rom 8:14), reveals (e.g., Lk 2:27; 1 Cor 2:6-16), forbids (Acts 16:6-7), predicts (1 Tim 4:1), searches God’s depths (1 Cor 2:11), and participates in prayer by crying Abba (Gal 4:6), and interceding with wrenching sighs for those in a state of weakness (Rom 8:26-27). The spirit also functions as a leader by sending out apostles (Acts 13:2-4), appointing overseers (Acts 20:28), and distributing spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:11).”
He omitted “exposes/convicts” (e.g., nonbelievers in Jn 16:8). So, the list is exposes/convicts, teaches, speaks, testifies, leads, reveals, forbids, predicts, helps in prayer, and giving wisdom in various church decisions.
Something missing from this list is any mention of “wanting to read the Bible or pray or do missions.” Nor is there any generalized mention of “wanting to grow at all.”
To say it again another way, I haven't found anywhere in the Bible where we're told that the Spirit makes believers want or desire to be more like Jesus. The Spirit seems to have nothing to do with desiring God or the righteous life.
(It’s interesting to me that the disciples beg Jesus to “increase their faith,” but Jesus doesn’t do it! See Luke 17:4-6).
I know I’ve been taught explicitly and implicitly all my life that having the Spirit will cause in me a hunger. The only problem is, it’s not in the Bible.
So, what does the New Testament say about maturing?
The NT assumes that growth is only based upon the teaching of the Church. It assumes that church leaders are to continue to pass down what they learned from Jesus and the Christian prophets (e.g., Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim 4:1-2; 3:16; Titus 1:9-14).
The authors of the NT very often beg their fellow Christians to listen to the teachings of the leaders and live them out/grow (e.g., Phil 2:12-13; 3:13-17; Rom 6:11-13; Gal 6:9; Eph 4:20-32; 2 Thess 3:13; Heb 12:3; 2 Pet. 1:2-14; Heb. 6:1-2, 11-12). That is to say, the leaders assume that without their constant, deliberate pleading and exhortation to keep growing, their people would stop growing.
This is why the New Testament assumes that baby Christians can be spotted by their behavior: if they knew better they wouldn’t act that way (this is the precise point in 1 Cor. 3:2-3 and Heb. 5:12-14). The assumption is that you can tell a Christian by how s/he behaves, and that a Christian would know how to behave because s/he has been taught Christian doctrine from a leader.
Now, it is true that there are texts which speak of “growth” (= spiritual maturity? being more like Jesus?). Paul says that God is the cause of growth (not the desire to grow!) in 1 Cor 3:6-7 and 1 Thess 3:12-13. At other times, we’re not told what the cause of growth is, though it seems to be practicing the teachings Christians were taught by the leaders (e.g., 2 Cor 10:15-18; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 1:2; 3:17-18).
So, based on what I’ve just explored, I’ll respond to your questions…
Why do some Christians seem to live with more spiritual sense and some never grow out of infancy? It seems to me that the Bible doesn’t really answer this question. A few authors seem quite frustrated that their people won’t “grow out of infancy” (e.g., 1 Cor 3:2-3 and Heb 5:12-14; 6:1-2). Why is the desire more profound than for others? Again, we’re never told. But, I wonder if NT author might say something like, “Some persons’ desires are stronger because they understand the gospel more.” That “understanding” of the gospel—something Paul constantly prays for concerning his congregations!—tends to breed more desire (like, the more I learn about astronomy the more I want to learn more). Also, I think they’d say that if the person has no or very little desire, it’s a sign that the person isn’t a disciple of Jesus. Why do some people seem to have a deeper revelation while others speak of being a Christian but bear no fruit? Based on what I’ve explored here, I think they would say that some people have a “greater revelation” (= do you mean of who God is?) because of a special gift from God (e.g., the prophets were revealed things no one else received until the prophets told people). And concerning why a Christian might not bear no fruit, then I think they’d say with ease that it’s a sign that the person has never received the Spirit. Minimal fruit is quite different from no fruit. And if it’s no fruit, then that’s a sign that the Spirit isn’t there.
What about regeneration? If our eyes have been open and we are truly regenerated then wouldn't there be a change in everyone? I assume that by “regeneration,” you mean something like being “born from above/born again.” I think the NT authors would concur with your question/assumption: if you’ve been born from above, there is a change. Maybe not at the same pace. The NT authors would certainly concur. I feel like the spiritual side of us is the only thing that can understand the things of God right? It's foolishness to the world. That comes from Paul in 1 Cor 2-3. It seems to me that the chief/only “thing of God” to which Paul is referring is that a crucified Jesus is the Savior (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:2). I’m not certain if Paul has in mind here every possible thing concerning the Christian faith as “foolishness” and indiscernible to non-believers. Perhaps. But, it seems to me that Paul is suggesting that, against some arrogant people at Corinth who think they know better, it requires the Holy Spirit to allow us to see that a crucified Messiah really is good news. So if we are regenerated, would not the spirit have new revelation? I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking here. If you mean “revelation” in the technical sense, as in, a “new message or vision from God,” then the answer is: yes, for those who are called “prophets.” They receive those revelations/messages from God. I don’t know of any evidence that all Christians should expect to receive God’s revelations. In the parable of the sower were the ones that got choked by the thorns etc, were they never really regenerated? That’s a great question! See, this is a perfect illustration of the great difficulty of biblical exegesis. It sure seems to me that, in general, we should not read the Gospels in light of Paul or read Paul in light of the Gospels. And this is a great example of why. Jesus says nothing at all about His disciples receiving the Spirit.
· Does that mean they didn’t during His earthly ministry? Perhaps. (Things changed radically after the resurrection!)
· Does that mean that no Christian does now? I don’t think that’s true because the early church sure believed that you did receive the Spirit post-conversion.
· So how do we resolve this? It seems to me that both views are compatible. Why? Because receiving the Spirit in no way prohibits Christians from sinning or from rejecting their faith altogether (e.g., Heb. 6:4-6; 1 John 2:1). Remember, when we explored the roles of the Spirit above, at no time do we discover that those who possess the Spirit can’t sin, can’t be tempted, or can’t reject Jesus (or even get possessed! That’s another blog). So, it seems to me that whether or not Jesus assumed disciples possess the Spirit or not, it is most certainly still possible to get “choked by the thorns” (Mk 4).
To perorate all this information: it seems to me that the Spirit is not in the business of helping people really want to grow. The Spirit isn’t a “hunger” in our soul that seeks to be satisfied. It seems that the reason why people don’t want to mature/grow, after having become a Christian, is either because
(1) they are ignorant of Christian teaching, and thus, don’t know to keep growing/maturing or even what that means; and/or
(2) they don’t have church leaders who are constantly exhorting/admonishing/teaching/leading them to grow.
Now, of course, I have known plenty of people who have a profound hunger and can’t get enough. That’s awesome. I’ve gone through phases of that too. But in no way does that mean that the Spirit has gone in and out of my life or that I must have been sinning.
Instead, if I were a bettin’ man, I’d say that desiring to grow has to do with a wide range of emotional, psychological, and spiritual reasons.
No matter what, according to the NT, I’ve got to get to work in the discipline of maturation (e.g., 1 Tim 4:7-8). I can’t sit back waiting on a feeling to arise before I do it or I’ll be sunk!
And to that end I hope you join me. J