While I know that the idea of being led by the Spirit is often assumed in church planting circles and implicit in many of our practices and values, I’ve increasingly become convinced that more than ever we need to remind ourselves of the apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians:
“But I say to you, walk by the Spirit… if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5: 16, 25, emphasis mine).
If we’re serious about evangelism and discipleship, and I certainly hope and pray that we are, than we would do well to reflect on the words of Paul: walk by the Spirit.
Growing up in charismatic circles, I’ve heard many sermons about how important it is to be led by the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit and guided by the Spirit and a whole host of other statements and sermon titles that articulate this rather obvious value for those who claim to be the heirs of Pentecost.
But I wonder if we’ve thought through the implications and foundation of just where the Spirit is headed. I’m convinced that if we understand the direction that the Spirit is moving it’ll make “walking by the Spirit” less challenging because we’ll at least be pointed in the same direction! It’s obvious from the context of Galatians 5 that our holiness and the corresponding fruit of the Spirit is a major concern of the Holy Spirit. No argument there. But what else might we add to this? What is the meta-narrative or big idea that we can trace throughout Scripture?
Before we tackle that subject, we need to understand something about what Paul is saying in Galatians. J. I. Packer is helpful here:
“The idea of “keeping in step” reflects Paul’s thought in Galatians 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Walk there is not peripateō, as in verse 16, signifying literally the walker’s moving of his limbs and metaphorically the activity of living, but stoicheō, which carries the thought of walking in line, holding to a rule, and thus proceeding under another’s direction and control.” (Keep in Step with the Spirit)
So the goal of “walking by the Spirit” would be to, as Packer suggests, proceed under the Holy Spirit’s direction and control. So what does the Holy Spirit want to guide and direct us toward? How can we point ourselves in the same direction as the Spirit? In addition to our own transformation of becoming more like Jesus, I’d like to suggest another “big idea” for us to acknowledge…
If we want to keep in step with the Spirit, being guided by him and directed by him and led by him, we need to understand that the primary concern of the Spirit is mission, namely God’s mission. That is why you and I exist… we exist for God’s mission. As Christopher Wright eloquently states:
“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.” (The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission).
Pilgrims on the Way of God’s Mission, Partnered with the Holy Spirit
Lesslie Newbigin said that “the Church must be seen as the company of pilgrims on the way to the end of the world and the ends of the earth.” We are pilgrims, make no mistake. Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11). The beautiful news, and certain a great comfort and source of hope, is that we do not make pilgrimage as “sojourners and exiles” alone. No! We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, for God has promised to neither leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
Yet might we consider why the Church is headed to the end of the world? The answer is simple. Because of God’s mission. The world is both the goal, scope, and arena of God’s mission. This is the focus of the Great Commission, articulated in each of the Gospels as well as Acts (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:19-23; and Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit directs followers of Jesus to engage in God’s mission! It is the “track” upon which “keeping in step with the Spirit” moves because the Holy Spirit was sent for God’s mission!
In other words, we are called to be a missional people because God is a missional God.
Making Disciples by Keeping Step with the Spirit
I recently found myself in a situation where I was having an every-day-run-of-the-mill conversation with someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus. I am pretty sure we were talking about where they were from and how many kids they have and a bunch of stuff that I’d probably forget ten minutes later. Scratch that; I can barely remember that part of the conversation now!
And to be honest, I was just making small talk because I kind of had too in that I was sitting there and they were sitting there and it would have just been awkward not to say something. You get my point.
As the other person was sharing with me a bit of information that was going in one ear and out the other, I distinctly sensed the Holy Spirit prompt me to engage in the conversation with a missional purpose. I sensed the Spirit indicate that I needed to become more intentional in listening so that I could observe how this person could hear about Jesus or experience God’s presence or something related to his mission. In other words, it was time to get in the game.
Guess what? In the next ten minutes that person opened up to me about some deep wounds that they had experienced early in life and I was able to share how God wanted to heal those hurts and how the Lord wanted to have a life-transforming relationship with them. God showed up and that person encountered his love for the first time. Had I not followed the “steps” of the Spirit, rooted in God’s mission, I’d have likely missed an amazing opportunity to see God’s work.
So let’s keep step with the Spirit. Let’s evangelize and make disciples in step with the Spirit. Let’s plant churches in step with the Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in and through God’s mission!
- What stories do you have in relation to the Holy Spirit guiding you in God’s mission?
- How have you been led or guided by the Holy Spirit?
- What else would you say about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God’s mission?