My life was in a strange mix in mid-2009. I was about four years deep into knowing Jesus, and I was conflicted about the first-ever wave of doubt that had come into my life. I was not raised in a church, so much of what I believed came from initial experience and, afterwards, a lot of examining what Christians believed and how areas like history, science and philosophy helped support Christianity as a rational belief.
This ran a bit counter to the type of church I was saved in. I was all in on the Pentecostal tradition, which often emphasizes the expressive work of the Spirit and not merely logic or information transaction as many churches do. Not all Pentecostals are emotional, but the areas in which I first came to know God definitely emphasized this aspect more.
During this time I loved God and felt him calling me to do something specific, to serve him with my life. I began to speak at churches frequently and even traveled to multiple places sharing about Jesus and giving my testimony. After high school this led me to a discipleship program to develop this gift and grow in leadership.
However I began to grow weary of seeing a lot of social issues that often crop up in conservative circles.
I still remember being at a pastor’s house and him just openly saying “You know how those black pastors are,” suggesting they were more prone to have affairs.
I overheard church leaders refer to immigrants as “dirty rats” that needed to go back to their own countries. I overheard the poor described as leeches that mooched off the system.
This was all coming to someone who had always possessed a deep concern for people and for the rights of others. I found myself wondering how there could be such a disconnect between the people I heard and the God of the Bible who seemed to get the most angry at those who mistreated orphans, immigrants, widows, and the poor.
In church services, I found myself observing how a drummer making a certain pattern made people “feel the Holy Ghost” more than they did earlier. I am a skeptical person by nature but this, combined with my frustration about how people were being talked about, was a nasty concoction bent on destroying my faith.
Reading Galatians As If For the First Time
In the midst of this, I was still part of a program that emphasized spiritual disciplines so I remained committed to prayer and Bible reading as part of my daily habits. One night I found myself alone in my dorm room with an NLT Study Bible, starting the book of Galatians. I planned to read the introduction, and maybe read through the book once.
What happened next is something I am still unable to explain merely in words. I found myself reading Galatians and there were things about the book, and the gospel in general, that I felt I had never heard before. There was an actual loss of time as I was just reading Paul’s letter.
The feeling would be similar to discovering a piece of paper telling you that you had several bank accounts in your name and these were the codes to get into them.
For the first time ever I was reading a portion like Galatians 2, which I now understood to say it was not by my effort that I kept my salvation, nor my disobedience that I could throw it away. I had never heard this before!
In a world of constant self-help tips, I had just thrown in belief in God and had yet to understand that if my “righteousness were through the law then Christ died for nothing!”
This was not the first time I had read Galatians. I had even taken a class on this very book, understanding the context and issues that Paul was addressing.
However there was something in my spirit confirming these truths in a way I hadn’t yet known. Martin Luther in his Latin works describes a well-known tower experience in which a similar thing happened, opening “the very gate to paradise.”
It is not an exaggeration to say this help saved my faith when other factors in my mind wanted to separate from it. I do not believe God would let me go, but I do know that he uses certain means to keep us abiding in him. I truly believe this moment was crucial to experience the Holy Spirit not only through exuberance in praise, but in a quiet time through His word. The very same words that birthed the entire universe into existence were now re-birthing my relationship with him through scripture.
Scripture and the Spirit
The Reformation helped recover the Christian ideal that there is an objective standard of truth not relative to one’s interpretation. This is often called “Sola Scriptura” or “scripture alone.” This term argues that, in all matters of life and doctrine, the final, albeit not only, authority is scripture itself.
Reformed people of all tribes often joke that when it comes to the Trinity there is the Father, Son, and Holy Bible. The underlying connotation is that when it comes to the Holy Spirit, it’s often more dangerous to understand him than to read about him. We are often a people who value knowledge and information much more than mystery and wonder when it comes to our right view of God. I often have this same temptation.
However, according to John Calvin there is a very particular way in which the Holy Spirit actually works hand-in-hand with one’s interactions with Scripture. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin doesn’t separate the Spirit from the Word and speaks strongly about the intertwined nature of the two.
Professor Michael Williams of Covenant College summarizes a view Calvin would have of the Bible and how he would answer the question “What is the Bible?”:
It is the declaration of God's redemptive activity centering in Jesus Christ. Faithfully inspired by the Holy Spirit. And illuminated in the people of God by the Spirit.
John Calvin and other Reformers recovered, not simply access to information, but also a Spirit-illuminated understanding of God’s Word. This work is not like digging up a new treasure, but rather polishing off an old one that had been there the whole time but had not been seen in all of its beauty or with clarity. The Holy Spirit reveals these things to us “that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
The Holy Spirit and scripture work hand-in-hand because he is the author and speaker of these very words. This does not mean that an individual’s interpretation holds weight over common hermeneutic methods. It simply means that the Spirit can impress on our souls the truths our minds may understand, but which have yet to change us in the most fundamental areas of our beings.
I am deeply grateful that God has given us so many means of his grace. He has given us nature to see endless wonders. He gave us himself when he came to earth and invaded this world with a glimpse of the future kingdom. We have so many other things like community, music, technology, family, friends, love, joy, and more. They have been provided for us, causing us to wonder at the one who actually made them.
Finally, He has given us his Word, drenched with the power of his Spirit to guide us in our day-to-day lives until he returns. He does this without prejudice and freely gives all of himself through the very words written thousands of years ago.
Kevin Garcia leads Spiritual Formation at Lifepoint Church in Dallas, TX. He has his B.A. In Church Leadership and is pursuing his M.A. In Ethics, Theology, & Culture from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passions are in theology, writing, justice, apologetics and how discipleship intersects all areas of life in particular the public square. He also loves sports, hip-hop, and listening to tons of podcasts.