Beside Us to Guide Us — and More!

Jesus, Continued . . . by J.D. Greear:  A Book Review

As soon as he started talking about guidance, J.D. had my ear.  You see, I am THAT Christian — the one who becomes paralyzed whenever there’s a big decision on the table, and even though I know that God is not interested in mindless robots (and truly, I’m not interested in becoming one), I still perseverate about making the RIGHT decision, and I want God to tell me what that is.  Basically, I want sky-writing:  “Buy the Ford!” in big puffy letters against a blue heaven.  At the other end of the spectrum of error are those who,  “function[ing] as deists, act as if God rules from the heavens and has spoken in his Word, but does not act on earth or move in their souls.”  Clearly, the truth about guidance and the Holy Spirit lies somewhere between these two erroneous approaches, and in his reassuring and stimulating book, J.D. Greear digs into the Word of God to debunk the myths, set the perfectionist free, and empower the body of Christ to begin functioning as confident, Spirit-led, Christ-exalting children of God.

Part 1:  The Missing Spirit — Christians have a tendency to gravitate toward extremes in their thinking about the Holy Spirit.  Either they over-emphasize the work of the Spirit apart from the Word of God (e.g. hearing voices and finding direction from God in their cereal bowl); or they have no real interaction with Him at all.  The author’s thesis in part one is that the Spirit and the Word work in partnership to guide the believer into truth.  The pattern Jesus gave with the Great Commission is this:  “Do nothing until the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  THIS is dependence, and Greear transparently and most helpfully shares his own frustrations with the ambivalence and lack of clarity this sometimes creates in the seeking heart.  It is encouraging to know that even the Apostle Paul experienced ambiguity from time to time (see I Corinthians 16).

At the same time, the Spirit is described as a mighty, rushing wind and God’s presence came at Pentecost in the form of a flame.  This is NOT subtle, and the Spirit’s presence in the life of a believer is meant to empower for ministry and to inspire confidence that “the Spirit inside you” is the One who does the work.   Unfortunately, believers fail to realize their identity as “burning bushes” who are called to serve and who are equipped with the ability to do even greater works than those chronicled in the New Testament. (Yes, it’s true — see Matthew 11:11 and John 14:12.)  Our ordinary obedience can be translated into extraordinary results when we realize that God doesn’t need us, but chooses to work in concert with us, graciously multiplying our efforts as we cooperate with Him.

Part 2:  Experiencing the Holy Spirit — Christians can be a superstitious lot, making major decisions on the basis of  goose bumps or the mysterious juxtaposition of multiple coincidences.  While it is true that the sky-writing I long for is not forthcoming, there are six distinct ways in which the believer does experience the Spirit’s presence:

  1. The Gospel – As an invitation to relationship, the truth of the gospel is the doorway to intimacy with God and a changed view of the world.
  2. The Word of God – Ninety-percent of the will of God is in the Word.  Given that, J.D. Greear invites us to ask ourselves how much of God’s revealed will we are already following in the shaping of our moral character.  Awareness of the Holy Spirit is a matter of “acknowledging Him in all our ways,” and if we do, He promises to “direct our paths,” (Proverbs 3:6).  Much of this is going on behind the scenes in ways that we see only in retrospect, if at all.
  3. Our giftings – Becoming aware of one’s spiritual gifts (Great definition: “unusual effectiveness in a responsibility given to all believers”) is a great  push in the right direction for working in tandem with the Spirit who gives the gifts.  This does not give the believer permission to put God in a box (“Nope, sorry, I can’t share the gospel with that person who is right under my nose, because I don’t have the gift of evangelism.”), but it should inspire confidence and enthusiasm for taking on the assignments that God gives.
  4. The church – In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit appears fifty-nine times.  In thirty-six of those appearances, He is speaking through a person who is part of the early church.  The Spirit continues to empower prophetic speech today — not “woo-wooey God-told-me-you’re-supposed-to-marry-me” kind of prophecy, but, primarily proclaiming and applying God’s Word to particular situations.  Any strong impression that the believer is tempted to attribute to the working of the Holy Spirit should first be lined up beside Scripture.  With that in mind, the Spirit may use a believer to be His mouthpiece to build up the church or guide in mission.  Refreshingly honest, Greear urges a level of skepticism on the part of the hearer, and presents the challenge of knowing the Word of God well enough to recognize truth (and error) when it is spoken.
  5. Our spirit – Here it becomes evident that the Holy Spirit is indeed a Person, not an algebraic formula or a Ouija board.  His leading, therefore, is not an exact science and our receptors are not flawless.  Greear’s oft-repeated wise counsel is to hold loosely what you think God is saying to you through prayer, through special insights, holy ambitions, or through dreams and visions.
  6. Our circumstances – Again, the word here is, “hold your interpretations [of circumstances] loosely.”  God does use our circumstances to guide us, but we are given to much superstition, flawed interpretation of events, and just plain confusion.  “Hearing from God means balancing what God puts in your heart with how He guides you through other means, and trusting Him all the way.”

Part 3:  Seeking the Holy Spirit —  Inexplicably, believers, at times, experience the silence of God which J.D. Greear terms “white space.”  These wilderness days are further evidence that God the Holy Spirit will not be “managed” by humans, but in retrospect, it may become apparent that God was at work during the white spaces to write something into the seeker’s soul.  At other times the Holy Spirit moves in power and the results are like a flood of repentance and prayer and great response to the gospel.

Jesus, Continued . . . is an important book for the believer who wants to make an impact on his world for the glory of God, because Greear is walking that path himself and is collecting resources, making mistakes, and correcting them along the way.  His sources in writing the book read like a who’s who of Spirit-led followers of Christ from the past (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd Jones, C.S. Lewis, John Newton) and the present (e.g. Tim Keller, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Vern Poythress, Henry Blackaby).  A new believer who wants to develop a reading list for fast-track growth in the faith should use Greear’s footnotes as a beginning point.

The huge and inescapable truth is that God wants a relationship with His people and has made every provision for it.  If I find myself wishing that He would communicate in ways that are not part of His nature, I must be wanting something I shouldn’t have.  In my case, I want a guarantee of smooth-sailing and efficiency in a world where one of Jesus’ most verifiably true statements is, “In this world, you will have tribulation.”  Part of God’s provision is the uncertainty and ambivalence surrounding our interactions with the Holy Spirit.  He has provided power, but we want visible results.  He promises his presence, but we want answers.  I am coming away from Jesus, Continued . . . with an increased and focused thoughtfulness about the ways in which God the Holy Spirit is waiting for me to notice what He values and to allow Him to show off His power in my work, my relationships, my failings, and my availability.

Disclosure:  This book was provided by BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review.

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