Atop Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah shouted to the people of Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 NIV). The word picture he was drawing is of someone limping back and forth from one leg to the other, not sure where he wants to place his weight, and it accurately described the Israelites who were chasing after Baal even as they claimed faithfulness to Yahweh.
I’ve never bowed down before Baal, but I’ve been guilty of limping between two opinions. In my early life, I was something of a ping pong ball, bouncing back and forth between charismatic expressions of Christianity and, well, non-charismatic expressions. Or to put it another way, I hobbled between Spirit churches and Word churches—those that emphasize experiences born of the Spirit and those that focus almost exclusively on Bible teaching.
I have indelible memories of a tongues-speaking, tambourine-shaking house church. I remember personal stories and testimonies that could have been pulled straight from the book of Acts. But I have equally vivid memories of learning that the supernatural gifts described in the New Testament had all died out with the apostles, that if you wanted to hear God speak to you, you should read the Bible out loud. I remember hearing solid Bible teaching in my evangelical youth group, but I also remember sneaking out on Friday nights to attend a local Assemblies of God service. My heart was kindled by how the pastor there talked about hearing from the Lord directly.
At the age of seventeen, while on a short-term mission trip to Jamaica, God spoke to my heart. In that beautiful setting, I could hear him calling to me, drawing me into the pages of Scripture, beckoning me to read, to study, and to explore the mysteries of the faith. Suddenly, my future shifted. I could not shake the calling of God on my life.
I knew I needed to prepare for ministry—though at that time I didn’t know what form that ministry would take. All I did know was that I needed to be a serious student of the Bible. So, I dropped out of college before I even started. I gave up my spot at a large state university and applied to a small Christian college where I could major in biblical studies. I was told my paperwork arrived too late and I’d need to wait until the following fall to matriculate, but God miraculously opened a few doors for me, and I was able to start right away.
While in college, I gravitated toward Reformed theology. I loved how scholars in that tradition have been able to connect ideas and themes across Scripture, revealing God’s sovereign fingerprints all over the Bible. But I couldn’t buy into the arguments they were making against supernatural gifts being for today. Over time, my own study of Scripture drew me out of Calvinism altogether, and I found myself asking—nay, begging—the Lord to pour out his Spirit on me in greater measure. It wasn’t that I had a change of mind about the fundamentals though. I remained committed to the authority of Scripture in my life. It was the Word itself that convinced me to seek more of the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life.
There are those who would have us believe you can either be a Word Christian or a Spirit Christian but never both. If you listen to some commentators, you’ll hear Pentecostal and charismatic circles described as spiritual free-for-alls where the Bible is twisted to make room for supernatural experiences, which may or may not emanate from demons. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not uncommon to hear that many evangelical denominations have remade the Trinity to suit their preference: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Both are gross exaggerations, but the divide between the two camps is very real.
The truth is this: as followers of Jesus, we need both the Word of God and the Spirit of God, doctrine and experience, truth and power. The church needs all the spiritual gifts God has made available and every word of Scripture. It can’t be one or the other.
Just consider the life of Jesus:
“From the moment of his baptism, Jesus overflowed with the Holy Spirit. He was taken by the Spirit from the Jordan into the wilderness of Judea to experience for forty days the ordeal of testing by the accuser. He ate no food during this time and ended his forty-day fast very hungry.”Luke 4:1–2 TPT
Jesus allowed the Holy Spirit to direct his steps, even though the path the Spirit carved out led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Walking by the Spirit sometimes means doing things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. It sometimes means being uncomfortable or making sacrifices, but the Spirit always leads us deeper into God’s goodness—even if it doesn’t always seem like it at the time. In reality, the Christian life cannot be lived, at least not fully, if we refuse to follow the Spirit’s gentle leading.
For each temptation Satan laid at Jesus’ feet, the Lord answered with Scripture (see Luke 4:3–13). It was the Word of God that sustained Jesus in the midst of his trial, and it was the Word that silenced the devil. The Bible grounds us in the truth and equips us for our spiritual battles so that “we will not be easily shaken by trouble, nor led astray by novel teachings or by the false doctrines of deceivers who teach clever lies” (Ephesians 4:14 TPT).
So, don’t settle for a half-formed version of Christianity. Live by the Word and walk by the Spirit. It’s the way of Jesus, the only way to abundant life.
You were never meant to live the Christian life in your own strength, so stop trying. Each morning, awaken your heart to the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. And then, each evening, renew your mind with the unchanging truth of God’s Word.
The Sword and the Spirit
- contains morning and evening devotions for a forty-day experience,
- focuses on biblical truths related to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit,
- highlights the unity between Scripture and spiritual experience, and
- includes a dedicated prayer prompt for each reading.