New Horizons

By His Word and Spirit: How Christ Exercises His Saving Rule

Henry Krabbendam

God the Father is the author of salvation. He elects his people and in the new covenant promises a new heart (regeneration), a new record (justification), and a new life (sanctification). God the Son is the procurer of salvation. As the new covenant "personified," he provides the new heart, the new record, and the new life.

Correspondingly, God the Spirit is the applier of salvation. He personalizes the new covenant as the "agent" in regeneration, the "seal" of justification, and the "agent" in sanctification. Without the Holy Spirit, the way to God remains a "highway in the sky" with no entrance ramps. He proceeds from both the Father and the Son to apply the salvation that the Father has promised and the Son has acquired.

The Word of God

The Holy Spirit applies Christ and his benefits by means of Scripture through human instrumentality. Scripture is powerful because of its nature as the word of God. It is the word of the Father, its author. It is the word of Christ, its contents. It is the word of the Spirit, its agent. In short, it is powerful because of its author (Zech. 1:6; Heb. 4:12), its contents (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:4-5), and its agent (Eph. 6:17). As the word of God (Acts 6:7; 13:48, 49; 19:19-20), it always accomplishes what it sets out to do, and is therefore always effective (Isa. 55:10-11), whether it leaves a trail of life or a trail of death (Matt. 13:8; John 1:18-19; 2 Cor. 2:14-16; 1 Pet. 2:8).

Biblical preachers are ambassadors of God the Father and function as his spokesmen (Rom. 10:15; 2 Cor. 5:18-20). They are gifts of Christ and are filled with his love (Eph. 4:11; 2 Cor. 5:14). They are instruments of the Holy Spirit and are graced with his presence (Acts 4:31; 2 Cor. 3:3; 1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:4). Authentic preaching is bold preaching (Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 1 Thess. 2:2; Eph. 6:18-20). This results from the presence of the Spirit. It displays great insight into the Scriptures (Acts 18:24-28), great clarity of expression (Col. 4:2-3), and great courage in discriminating and applicatory confrontation (Acts 2:37; 3:19; 7:51-54; 17:30-31; 18:24-28; Matt. 16:19).

The Word and the Spirit

Note well, we may never emphasize either the Spirit or the Word at the expense of the other. Rather, we ought always to seek the power of the Spirit and the direction of the Word together. Neither power without direction, nor direction without power, will accomplish anything. Focusing on the Spirit without the Word tends toward mysticism and pantheism. Focusing on the Word without the Spirit tends toward rationalism and deism.

Scripture describes the relationship between the Spirit and the Word from a threefold perspective. First, the Spirit works cum Verbo, with the Word (Acts 16:14). Second, the Spirit works per Verbum, through the Word (James 1:18; John 17:17). Third, the Word of God is itself Spiritus loquens, the Spirit speaking (Heb. 3:7).

First, the fact that the Spirit works with the Word implies that we may not by definition equate being Scripture-taught with being Spirit-taught. The agent (the Spirit) and the means (the Word) belong together, but we must not confuse them. (Similarly, we may not equate being man-taught with being God-taught. This is to confuse the source [God] with his instrument [man].) A true and full understanding of this inevitably drives us to unceasing prayer. In short, the cum Verbo emphasizes both God's sovereignty and our utter dependence upon him.

Second, the fact that the Spirit of God works through the Word implies that we may not separate the agent (the Spirit) and the means (the Word). God, in his inscrutable wisdom, has tied the application of salvation to the faithful proclamation of his Word. (Similarly, we may not separate being God-taught from being man-taught. This is to ignore the link between the source [God] and his instrument [men].) All this spells the indispensible significance of—and requires the diligent use of—the ordinary means of grace. In short, the per Verbum emphasizes that the Spirit works through the Word (parallel to God working through human colaborers).

Third, the fact that the Word is the speaking Spirit implies that the Spirit of God himself confronts us with discriminating power (for unbelievers) and applicatory power (for believers) in the proclamation of God's Word. This heightens our responsibility as hearers. To reject the Word is to reject the Spirit of God himself. In short, all this conveys that every proclamation of the Word precipitates a "crisis" in a real sense of that word in sinners as well as saints (cf. Matt. 16:13ff.).

Each of these three aspects complements the others. It is biblically irresponsible, spiritually unhealthy, and potentially damaging to be enamored by one aspect at the expense of the others. In short, in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, there must be total, prayerful dependence in the face of divine sovereignty: total, personal involvement in the face of the preacher's responsibility, and a total, discriminating, as well as applicatory, aim in the face of the required response on the part of sinners as well as saints.

The author, an OP minister, teaches at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tenn. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2002.

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