In a previous post called “Connecting the dots…“, I suggested that Scripture gives us certain points of reference, but does not always draw a complete picture as to how we should live, or perhaps even what we should believe. Similarly, in the post “Adding more dots…“, I suggested that we should make a distinction between Scriptural points of reference and man-made points of reference that we often find in creeds, confessions, and systems of theology. These two posts build a foundation in order to answer the question, “How do we live between the dots?”
There will always be circumstances that Scripture does not cover. We will often make decisions about which Scripture does not tell us what to do. What do we do in these situations? How do we live between the dots?
Let’s begin by recognizing that we are not the first generation of God’s people to deal with this problem. In fact, all of God’s people have dealt with this. Because of this, we should find instructions in Scripture as well as examples in Scripture concerning how to deal with issues that are not covered by Scripture itself. What do we find?
There are many passages of Scriptures that we could examine. I’ll touch on a few that seem to relate to this issue. For example, Jesus told his followers that they would be forced to give account of their actions and words before earthly readers. However, Jesus did not tell them to quote Scripture. Instead, He told them to rely on the Spirit:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16-20 ESV)
Similarly, when Paul was was writing to the Corinthians, he did not tell them to trust their reason and their ability to rationalize and to extrapolate the scriptural points of reference. He told them that their wisdom would come from a different source:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16 ESV)
In this passage, having the “mind of Christ” is not related to our own ability to process thoughts, but upon our reliance on the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, we tend to think of the Spirit as only convicting us where Scripture speaks, or only teaching us what Scripture says. However, according to these passages and others, we should walk with the Spirit especially in those places where Scripture is silent – that is, “between the dots”. Thus the Spirit is a very real and very present manifestation of God in the lives of believers.
Abiding in Christ (John 15:1-13) is abiding in the Spirit. Walking with God (Gen 5:22-24; 6:8-9) is walking with the Spirit. Loving God (Matt 22:37) is loving the Spirit. Allowing the words of Christ to dwell in you (Col 3:16) is allowing the words of the Spirit to dwell in you. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd (John 10:1-4) is listening to the voice of the Spirit.
We should live “between the dots” – that is, between the points of reference that we find in Scripture – by living in the Spirit and following Him. The Spirit may use Scripture (which He often does) and He may also use reason, experience, feelings, visions, dreams, other people. But, in all of these it is the voice of the Spirit (the voice of God) that we follow, whether He leads us near the points of reference we find in Scripture, or in the spaces between the dots.
And, we should follow humbly – that is, in humility with regard to God, and in humility with regards to others. Why? Because as one blogger said recently:
In the end we have to pray for and seek God’s guidance and help. God is a God of grace and mercy. He will lead us on as we seek to follow. Our following certainly is not infallible, though his leading is. (Ted at “Jesus community” in “we don’t understand it all“)
The one we follow is infallible. However, our hearing and our following is far from infallible. In fact, if at any point we actually find ourselves hearing Him and following Him, we recognize that this occurs wholly by His grace, mercy, and power – and this includes hearing Him and following Him within scriptural points of reference.
And, yet, in spite of the fact that we sometimes do not hear, and in spite of the fact that we sometimes do not follow, the Spirit continues to speak and He continues to call and He continues to lead. At any moment, He is ready to reveal His will to us – even when we are living “between the dots”.
Living by the Spirit is not mystical or ehtereal or idealistic or eschatological. Instead, living by the Spirit is a current reality for those who are in Christ. According to Paul, living by the Spirit affects your conduct: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 ESV) According to John, living by the Spirit is a confirmation of our salvation: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13 ESV) According to Luke, living by the Spirit changes our directions and our locations: “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem.” (Acts 19:21 ESV) Notice the real, palpable, manifest evidences of living by the Spirit in this important passage:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:9-14 ESV)
These are not theological statements to be written in a creed, confession, or system and repeated as ritual. Instead, they are about life and conduct and thought. We are different because the Spirit dwells within us. Because the Spirit dwells within us we have life – real life. This is the life that we live by the Spirit “between the dots”.
So, as I end this post about “living between the dots” by the power and presence of the Spirit of God, I should point out (as I have suggested above) that we should also live “within the dots” by the power and the presence of the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who reveals His truth and His will to us, whether that truth and will is recorded in Scripture or not. How do we live between the dots? By the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. How do we live near the dots? By the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
How has the Spirit guided you “between the dots”? What methods do God use to communicate His truth and His will to you when you living outside the points of reference provided by Scripture? How do you rely on the Spirit even when you are living within the “dots” of Scripture?
“Connecting the Dots” Series: