Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Several years ago, a brother in Christ from another denomination approached me with a sense of urgency. He said he had a “word of knowledge” for me from the Lord. He said God wanted me to know that unless I went to a particular church in Toronto or Pensacola to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God would remove me from church leadership within six months and our denomination would disappear within a year. Wanting to be polite, I didn’t say what I was thinking: “I believe Jesus is telling me not to listen to you!”
Though I believe the Spirit, from time to time, gifts some with special wisdom and discernment, this brother’s message was clearly the invention of his own imagination. Over the years, many have felt the need to share with me a word of knowledge or a prophecy, which they claim is from the Lord. On one occasion, a gentleman declared that he wanted to anoint and ordain me. I explained that I already had been ordained and wasn’t sure why he wanted to anoint me (I wasn’t feeling sick—at least not until he mentioned this “word”!). It reminded me of the people who audition for one of those TV singing contests. Though they sound awful, they get angry when the judges won’t let them on the show!
Though I’ve had several of these experiences over the years, the only times the prophecy was true, was when it mirrored (coincidentally?) what already is revealed in Scripture. One time, a woman who said she was a prophetess brought me this message from the Lord: “God loves you!” She seemed taken aback when I replied, “He loves you too!” She seemed genuinely surprised when I then told her that God’s love for all people is one of the fundamentals of the faith. I mentioned that the old song is true, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I think she walked away disappointed.
On another occasion, a man told me that God told him to “wash my feet.” He seemed surprised when I replied that his message was more for him than for me—perhaps God was telling him to serve me and others in practical ways. It’s sad that some people are motivated to convey a “word of knowledge” for others, yet they do not hear God’s already-revealed word for them!
Those who have come to me with a word of knowledge or a prophecy generally have not brought a new revelation. Not a single one of these prophecies has come to pass. But that’s no surprise, because the purpose of prophecy is not to foretell the future but to point to Jesus, who is the center of God’s plan of redemption. As the apostle John wrote, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Jesus declared that all Scripture (and that includes all its prophecies) point to him (John 5:39). As declared by the author of Hebrews: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus is now our prophet, as well as our priest, sage and king.
When someone proclaims that the Spirit has given them a special gift, they (perhaps unwittingly) imply that the Spirit is operating separately from Jesus and the Father. Some even proclaim that the Spirit gets “the short end of the stick” when he doesn’t receive as much worship as do the Father and the Son. They seem to conceive of the Trinity as three-in-competition rather than three-in-communion. But let me be clear: The Spirit has not altered God’s plan of redemption; has not displaced Jesus as the center of all prophecy; and never works separate from Jesus and the Father. The Spirit never does anything outside the unity and communion of the Trinity.
Jesus explained that the Spirit is sent to guide us into all truth and in doing so does not speak on his own. He is sent to do the will of the Father. The Spirit comes from the Father, through the incarnate Son, and actualizes within us all that God accomplished for us in Christ. Elmer Colyer put it this way in an article entitled “Thomas F. Torrance on the Holy Spirit”:
Jesus, our brother, does all of this for us on our behalf and in our place in and through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is born of the Spirit. At his baptism, Jesus was anointed for us with the Spirit without measure, for he received the Holy Spirit into the very humanity Christ assumed in the incarnation. Jesus Christ lived out his entire earthly life and ministry in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Everything our Lord did, he did in the communion of the Spirit, including his death and resurrection. So it is no isolated or naked Holy Spirit who comes upon the church at Pentecost, but rather the “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7), the Holy Spirit who was fully engaged in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord.
Just as Jesus does not do anything behind the back of the Father, neither does the Holy Spirit work independently of the Father and Son. T.F. Torrance talked about the Spirit “hiding behind the Father” and bringing the “radiance of God’s glory to bear upon us.” The Holy Spirit does not have a separate agenda nor does he give messages separate from what the Word is saying. Note this from T.F.:
Like Christ the Holy Spirit is one in being and of the same being as the Father, but unlike Christ the Holy Spirit is not one in being and of the same being as we are, for he incarnated the Son but does not incarnate himself, he utters the Word but does not utter himself. He directs us through himself to the one Word and Face of God in Jesus Christ in accordance with whom all our knowledge of God is formed in our minds, knowledge of the Spirit as well as of the Father and of the Son. This is the diaphanous self-effacing nature of the Holy Spirit who hides himself, as it were, behind the Father in the Son and behind the Son in the Father, but also the enlightening transparence of the Spirit who by throwing his eternal Light upon the Father through the Son and upon the Son in the Father, brings the radiance of God’s Glory to bear upon us. We do not know the Holy Spirit directly in his own personal Reality or Glory. We know him only in his unique spiritual mode of activity and transparent presence in virtue of which God’s self-revelation shines through to us in Christ, and we are made through the Spirit to see the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father.
When the Scripture speaks of the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is not speaking of things separate from the Father or the Son. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.), are characteristics of the Son that we share in through the indwelling Spirit. Likewise, the gifts of the Spirit (including the “word of knowledge”) are not separate from the Father or the Son, and are given principally to encourage and embolden the faith of the recipient.
Let me close with this from T.F. Torrance: “What Jesus Christ does for us and to us, and what the Holy Spirit does in us, is what God himself does for us, to us, and in us” (Christian Doctrine, p. 95). Now that’s a word of knowledge!
Looking to Jesus, the one true prophet,
Note: the cartoons in this issue are used with permission from Naked Pastor (www.nakedpastor.com).