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Relationships are Messy

For over forty years, Dr. Robert Lindsey, now with the Lord, pastored the Narkis Street Church in Jerusalem. Dr. Bob, as he was affectionately called, was one of the most remarkable men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He was absolutely brilliant and some of his insights into the synoptic gospels are affecting a paradigm shift in the scholarly world.

He was a pastor at heart, loving and ministering to people. I heard him say something memorable on the occasion of a baptism in Kerem, just outside Jerusalem. Three young German women had made commitments to the Lord and the congregation went out to this pool of spring water. There they confessed their commitment to the Lordship of Jesus, renounced the adversary and his hold upon their lives, and then immersed themselves in the water three times, in the Jewish manner by squatting down.

Dr. Lindsey and the elders stood, not in the water but just at the water’s edge and as the women immersed themselves he said: "we baptize you into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who brings you to our gracious heavenly Father, who gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit." I've never forgotten those words because it was not a formula, it was a description of the reality.

One of the things that I found to be the case with the Western mindset is that we want to be formulaic, we love formulas. We want to know how to pray to prosper, so give us the Jabez prayer and millions of books will sell because we want formulas. The great Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel said the Greeks study to comprehend, the Hebrews study to revere, and the Americans study in order to utilize.

Westerners are pragmatists, always wanting to put things to use, and so we like everything clear-cut, defined, and formulaic. It is one of the reasons many of us have problems with the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is like the wind. He comes, he goes, he blows, he anoints, he prospers, he leads. But put the wind in a box and it is no longer wind, is it?

Yet God's people want a theological formula for the Holy Spirit, you must be baptized in this way, or somebody must lay hands on you in this way. We want a formula about baptism in the Holy Spirit, this experience first, and then this experience second, and then this experience third. We are not comfortable with ambiguity, living with tension.

The Holy Spirit, however, manifests in a diverse manner in the Book of Acts. For some it comes after immersion, for others, it comes before. For some the fullness, the immersion into the Holy Spirit happens at the moment of faith like Cornelius. On other occasions like at Samaria, they come to faith but it’s only when the apostles come and lay hands upon them that they are baptized in the Holy Spirit.

All this really frustrates us because we want to know, What is the exact formula? What is the specific sequence? My hope and desire is that as maturing disciples of Jesus you will be increasingly sensitized to the fact that to think biblically, to have the mind of Jesus, you must think relationally not formulaically. That is a key difference between the Western and Hebraic worldview.

A Hebraic way of thinking is intrinsically relational because it is covenantal. So when it comes to matters of the Spirit in this study, I am not going to give you a definitive formula any more than I can give you a definitive explanation of the God-head. Why? Because salvation is all about renewing your relationship with the Father so that you come into the restoration after the image of His Son. It is a relationship.

In light of this, it should not surprise you that as Protestants we have focused on one aspect of salvation, justification. Justification is formulaic, it is a legal transaction that can be described clearly and we like that clarity. Relationships, on the other hand, are messy. We do not like a mess, we want everything organized, clean and neat. That is why we love formulas. And why we debate and divide over minutiae. Heaven forbid!

One of the points I make to people on this matter is that you must release your anxiety and affirm the tension. If you can explain the God-head you are in error. Think about it, it is axiomatic. If you think you can explain the inexplicable you are going to miss the mark to some degree. God in his very essence is kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. Not just holy ... holy, holy, holy. This holiness speaks to his radical essence as other-than anything in the creation. He is above, he is beyond, he is transcendent, he is wholly other-than anything that exists, everything comes about because of Him.

Our relationship with the mystery of the God-head begins with humility and continues with reverence, awe, and worship.

"Father, we come aware of the awesome privilege it is to address You. Aware of the awesome reality that the spirit of Messiah in us, Your Son, cries out, “Abba! Abba!” Thank you, Father, that Your steadfast love endures forever, that Your compassions are made new each morning, that Your faithfulness is great and that Your kindness knows no bounds. Hear the meditations of our hearts and the prayers of our lips. We offer them up in Jesus name."


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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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