Why You Cannot Live Out What You Read in the Bible
The Christian life is informed by our study of the Scriptures. The Bible is the written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16). It is clear, so that people can understand it. It is necessary revelation for our salvation. It is sufficient for understanding what it means to live a godly life of righteousness.
Christians believe the Bible, but can anyone do everything the Bible instructs us to do? The uninformed or inexperienced Christian will simply tell people to read the Bible and live it. Clearly, the teacher who instructs other Christians to “just do it” has much to learn.
Followers of Jesus are taught the Bible by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26). This is true in a dual sense. First, Spirit-filled teachers will instruct their hearers. Second, the indwelling Spirit in the hearer/student is at work there, too. Christians are to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18), and it is the Holy Spirit who causes it to happen.
The Christian life is holistic. We are to put on Christ. This is the idea of putting on a robe and covering one’s entirety. Ideally, one’s receipt of Christ should be an all-encompassing experience. Christians, by identification, are both hearers and doers of the Word. Christian works are the manifestation of one’s Christian faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). The Word of Christ is heard because the Spirit opens the ears/heart of God’s elect people at the appointed time (Acts 16:14).
It is the indwelling Christ who is willing and doing God’s good pleasure in His chosen people (Phil 2:13). This work, accomplished by God, is called, “grace.” Grace saves the Christian (Eph 2:8–9), and grace has prepared works for the born again believer to walk in (Eph 2:10). Christians live and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25). The Christian life is Spirit-led (Rom 8:14), and Spirit empowered (Acts 1:8; Rom 15:13, 19; Eph 3:16; 1 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 1:7).
Now, if these works preceded the believer’s existence, then they must be in God’s predetermined plan and foreknowledge. This plan, known to God, is decreed in eternity, then it is executed in God’s providence in time, according to His will (Eph 1:11; 3:11). We know the will of God for the Christian is sanctification (1 Thess 4:3).
Sanctification is synonymous with the Christian life. God is transforming His regenerate elect into conformity to Christ Jesus. He is making them holy, after He has made them alive (Eph 2:5). This is God’s work (Jn 6:29). He will do it (Ps 37:4).
The Christian is sanctified, made holy, by the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to the Christian’s daily walk (Jn 17:17). Christ is in His beloved, doing a good work. He began this good work, and He will finish His good work (Phil 1:6). He promised.
Therefore, when a pastor or teacher demands work and performance from Christians, he is actually lording over the indwelling Spirit (1 Pet 5:3), who knows the plans He has for each child of God. Christ is building His church (Mt 16:18) and crafting each living stone to have her unique place in the temple of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21–22).
Performance-driven pastors serve as “spiritual life coaches,” as if each Christian was the master of her own destiny. The Holy Spirit is all but ignored in this work assignment. When, in fact, it is the Spirit doing all the work!
Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them with Your truth, You Word is truth (Jn 17:17).” The Father answered Jesus’ prayer by sending the Holy Spirit to do the very thing Jesus requested (Acts 2). He who does the work, rightly deserves the glory, and all glory goes to our Triune God for the great things He has done.
Pastors who miss the primacy of the Holy Spirit end up becoming slave masters lording over sheep that do not belong to them (1 Pet 5:3). Enslaving Christ’s sheep to some works-based sanctification plan, devised by some spiritual life coach, is sin. This is simply stated in the directive to obediently live out the Christian life with zero reference to the will and work of the Holy Spirit. Pastors should lead people to rest in Christ, not to work harder and harder to gain the favor of God.
It is enough for a pastor/preacher to open the Scriptures and feed our Lord’s people. Tending and protecting them, as the Spirit grants grace for pastoring. The Lord is my Shepherd (Ps 23). He leads me. He feeds me. He helps me. He protects me. I belong to Him, and He is mine. The pastor is only a distributor of food in proper time (Mt 24:45).
Pastor, in the power and wisdom of the Spirit of Christ…minister the Word. Fulfill your calling to steward the mysteries of the Gospel (1 Cor 4:1). Trust that it is the Spirit working in you to do what He has commanded for you to do. Give yourself to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4) and do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). Wait on the Lord at all times so that you will be in a position to do whatsoever He commands. Just do not tell people to read the Bible and live it out. They can’t, and neither can you.
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 7, 2022