Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Music and the "Where" of the Holy Spirit

“Holy Spirit, You are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.”
- from the song, “Holy Spirit,” by Bryan & Katie Torwalt, © 2011 Capitol CMG Genesis (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing), Jesus Culture Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

God the Holy Spirit, one of the three Persons of the one true God, is not said to dwell in a “place” or “atmosphere.” The one passage I can find which is closest to the text of the Torwalt’s song is Acts 4:31. The Church has just prayed, “grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (4:29,30). In response to this request, “the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” The “place” (nor the “atmosphere”) is not filled with the Holy Spirit, but Peter and John’s “own” (4:23), the people of the Church who have just “lifted their voices to God with one accord.”

The same thing happened on the day of Pentecost: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). They were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God” (2:11). The “place” where the Church was gathered was affected, but it is the people who were filled with the Holy Spirit. And the result is not merely an emotional rush or mystical experience for its own sake, but the proclamation of God’s saving work in Christ to the lost.

I’m not making note of this merely to criticize a very popular contemporary song, but to remind us all that the Bible has specific things to say about where the Persons of the Trinity manifest Themselves and work. I have personally tried to pay attention to this in my Bible reading, and have purposefully tried to reflect biblical language in my prayers, thinking, teaching, and preaching about God Himself.

Again, if you’re a fan of the song “Holy Spirit,” I’m not trying to be mean. But we are called to “love the Lord” our “God with all” our “mind” (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27). That’s not a sentiment or pleasant idea, but a command. It’s part of what the Lord Jesus Christ called “the great and foremost command” (Matthew 22:38), and, along with Leviticus 19:18, “there is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). It seems, therefore, that we should strive for passionate accuracy according to the Scriptures when we think of God, pray to God, and – yes – sing of God.

In the new covenant, if there is any sanctity (holiness) of a place (which I don’t see in the New Testament), it is because it is populated with believers in Jesus Christ, who are filled with the Holy Spirit by virtue of the promise of the Gospel. The Spirit doesn’t inhabit a place. He indwells a people.

The Lord Jesus spoke of “the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were to receive” (John 7:39).

For further clarification, let me add: He does not fill a place, but a people, and He does not do so in response to a song, but is sent by the Father and Son to those who believe in the Son. The result is singing, no doubt (Ephesians 5:19), but the singing does not bring Him to fill.

I’ve led worship. Sometimes everything comes together, and it can be a very stimulating and emotionally-charged time. Sometimes not. What I fear is that we can fall into a non-Gospel mentality, lifting up the effectiveness of the music/worship team/atmosphere above the gracious gift of the Spirit given by Father and Son based solely on Jesus’ cross and nothing we have done. Do you see the difference? What if you come away from a service feeling nothing? Did the stage team fail to bring the Spirit? Is there something wrong with you that the Spirit didn’t come? The Bible says we only deserve the wrath of God, not His glory or presence. The Son, though, took that wrath upon Himself on the cross, and as a result of believing that message of the Gospel (not the result of experiencing music), the Father sends the Spirit because of the intercessory request of the Son from heaven. The Holy Spirit indwells sinners despite their efforts, not because of them. And, as a result, we sing of “the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

God the Holy Spirit indwells the people who are the Church. “...through [Christ Jesus] we...have our access in one Spirit to the Father,” and “are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18,22). “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? ...the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16,17). “...do you not know that your [plural] body [singular] is a temple [singular] of the Holy Spirit Who is in you [plural], Whom you [plural] have from God, and that you [plural] are not your own? For you [plural] have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your [plural] body [singular] (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). “...you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). It’s not the “place” or “atmosphere.” It’s you (plural) in Christ.

This is a precious, glorious, awe-inspiring truth that does not require a musically-based experience to be a reality. While there is nothing wrong with a Christian music experience (I love good music of all styles), remember that it is the fruit, not the root, of the loving Father, gracious Son, and communing Holy Spirit.

While offering this loving reminder of the Scripture’s witness, let me add: the Son is at the right hand of the Father in heaven since His ascension, ruling over “heaven and...earth” with “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). He is also continually interceding from that place for believers in Him (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is, from that place, to be our focus while we are here on earth: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). I wonder if, instead of invoking the presence of God the Trinity in our gatherings, we would be better served to beg Him to lift us up to where He is, “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Holiness. Innocence. Purity. Separation from sin. The exaltation of Christ. These are things we desperately need, and they are found where He is. So maybe we should be called to worship yearning for that place, lifted up to it by the sent-from-heaven Spirit Who dwells in us, Who seals us in the Son Who is at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

God showed up in a place at the dedication of Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 5:14; 7:2) in the old covenant. But we are part of a new covenant whose prized adjective is "better" (Hebrews 7:19,22; 8:6; 10:34; 11:16,40; 12:24). God drawing us to a heavenly place is as much better than God dwelling in an earthly place as the new covenant in Christ is better than the old covenant.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus...for our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:14,20,21).

Can you feel Paul’s yearning, his longing in these words?

Father, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit as the matchless Gift. Son of God, all glory to You for earning the Gift of the Holy Spirit for a people who could not possibly ever merit such a precious Presence. Holy Spirit, we treasure Your indwelling the Church of Christ-believers, and ask that You continually bind us together in Christ, lifting us up higher day by day to our longing and desire: the heaven of the Father and Son, the place where we are welcome solely by the merit of Christ. Holy Trinity, mighty and gracious God, we are in awe of this all-consuming reality, witnessed in the promise of Your all-sufficient and flawless Word. And so, anchored to this dirt but longing for eternal heaven, we proclaim, pray, and sing with all our art the marvels of Who You are and what You have done. You alone are worthy.

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