Education and the Holy Spirit by Peter Elliot

An ironic predicament has presented itself at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane. From my various conversations with fellow classmates, professors, (and even from reflection in my own life) I have realized a common and blatant contradiction in the way students view their theological education. This contradiction is the Bible student’s use of the Holy Spirit as a means of attaining his specific theological education, and the utilization of the Holy Spirit as a hindrance to that education which he claims God “called him to,” “led him toward,” or “gifted him for.” Education, in this sense, is not the experience of college but the “systematic instruction, schooling or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life, pertaining to an institution, classes, assignments, and a grading system.” The term “education,” in this paper, will be regarded as the scholastic assignments given to students to advance their knowledge. In a formal, theological education the Holy Spirit should enhance our learning and not be used as an excuse for poor performance.

How is the Holy Spirit used as a means of attaining our specific ministerial education? In our evangelical community we commonly talk of the Holy Spirit’s “calling” in our lives. During the first two weeks of our freshman year, many of us probably had conversations that included the phrases, “I felt called,” “God laid a burden on my heart,” or possibly “The Holy Spirit opened my eyes.” As you may remember from Os Guinness’ The Call, it is not that these phrases are necessarily wrong, but they come with major implications that cast a burden on the backs of those who utilize them in their spiritual conversations.1  I am not here debate God’s specific call into vocational ministry, but rather to prick the conscience of those who claim that the Holy Spirit is directing their life but do not allow Him to convict them in their academic studies. Students here at Moody would in one way or another say God had a part in directing their life to this institute to study and prepare for the vocational ministry. It is on this understanding that I will engage this misconception of our current theological education.

The law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. The two propositions “A is B” and “A is not B” are mutually exclusive.2  Aristotle to explain this law uses this example: Socrates cannot be both a “man” and a “non-man.” If someone says Socrates is a man, and then, because he denies the law of non-contradiction, also says Socrates is a non-man, he is uttering nonsense. Here is why. The class of non-man turns out to be everything else in the universe that is not a man. When he denies the law of non-contradiction and says Socrates is a man but that he is also a non-man at the same time and in the same sense, what he is saying is Socrates is a man, yes, but he is also a horse, he is a dog, he is a collection of viruses, he is the universe, and he is everything else in the universe that is not a man.3  With that in mind, these next two statements present a possible logical contradiction for a Bible student:

1.The Holy Spirit’s power in one’s life is the cause for a theological education.

2.The Holy Spirit’s power in one’s life causes a devaluation of his theological education.

Now many may be wondering how the Holy Spirit’s power causes one to devalue his theological education. This is where logic comes into play; as stated earlier the law of non-contradiction states that one of these equations must be a mutually exclusive statement. According to this thinking one of the two must be a false statement. No one would agree that the Holy Spirit’s power causes the devaluation of his scholastic studies, but when students misuse the Holy Spirit’s power to comfort themselves when negative academic consequences present themselves they, in fact, do not believe in the law of non-contradiction. To comfort oneself in academic failure is as illogical as saying the Holy Spirit’s power causes you to devalue your theological education.

The view that the Holy Spirit’s power is all that is needed for vocational ministry is commonly held by evangelical Christians. This is also the mindset that students are tempted to adopt when they are struggling in their academic studies. It is often very “comforting” to a struggling or conflicted student to remember that all that is needed is the Holy Spirit’s power to serve God well, and while that is in a sense true, the question I would rather propose is, “Is that thinking logical?” Based on the previous equations and the very law of non-contradiction, these two statements cannot coincide with each other.

How can one say that the Holy Spirit’s Power brought them to become educated in theological studies for a vocational ministry, and then reply in the face of negative academic consequences that the Holy Spirit’s power is all that is needed for that vocational ministry? It is similar to a drop out pre-med student saying, “My passion to help the sick is what brought me to Medical School and my passion to help the sick is all that I need to be a good doctor.” It would be absurd to believe that a passion to help sick people is all that is needed to be a doctor. Yes, his passion brought him to medical school, but his passion cannot make him a doctor without a proper education in the field of medicine. His passion should enhance his learning experience, but it should not be used as a means of hindering it.

I am not wishing to deny the power of the Holy Spirit in weak men, for history has shown us that God can and will use any man He deems fit for His service including unequipped men. This reminds me of the famous evangelical quote, “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.” It is important to remember the context of this article. This article is addressing the work of the Holy Spirit’s power in students who are pursuing a theological education. Now according to the previous quote, how is a student enrolled at Moody equipped by God? Very simply, it is through his education. By making the statement that God has directed him to the institute, the student makes it his God-given, Christian stewardship to become well educated.4  Therefore the student cannot use the Holy Spirit’s power as an excuse for being a poor steward of the education God has placed before him.5  This is the serious contradiction which is eating away the intellectual growth of many students.

I have struggled in my own studies with this very problem. Whenever I would receive a grade that was not satisfactory or desirable, I would rationalize my failure with the comfort of the Holy Spirit found in God’s Word. Verses like II Peter 1:2-3 which talk of God giving all that is necessary for life and godliness would instantly flood into my mind providing me with a false perception of God’s approval of my actions. It is from this false comfort of settling for lower grades that the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin, the sin of sloth. It was very interesting to see how I confused the comfort of the Holy Spirit with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is truly a tragedy when we use our God as a comforting excuse for our own laziness. I comforted myself with this misconception for my entire freshman year. I allowed my studies to suffer for the sake of “community” and justified my laziness and exaltation of friendships with the very power that I claimed “called” or “led” me to my theological education.6  Now I know that there are many students that are truly dedicated and strive to learn yet still receive mediocre grades. I am not wishing to equate poor grades with laziness, but rather to equate laziness with poor grades. Each students knows for himself whether an assignment was done out of excellence or laziness, and it is the acts of laziness which I wish to address.

Is it possible that our sin nature twists even the knowledge of the Holy Spirit as a means of sinful indulgence? In our corrupted, sin-filled nature we desire vindication or justification for the actions of selfishness that we choose. Our sin nature exploits the works of the Holy Spirit as our comforter and uses it as a vindication for the laziness that we so easily fall into. Valuing community over education, deeming grammar as an unnecessary part of theological education, and even complaining about tough professors are all ways our sin nature reconciles our lazy and slothful self with living a righteous, Christ-centered life in the Spirit. This problem leads me to my final point of discussion: biblically speaking, the Holy Spirit comforts by the means of conviction. This conviction should produce an enhancement in one’s theological education that should overtake the false comforts which our sinful nature creates to justify our slothful habits.

I Corinthians 1:4-5 states, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge.”7  Paul, when writing to the Corinthian church, thanked God that He had enriched the Corinthians in their speech and knowledge. There is one principle of truth that I would like to glean from this passage as pertaining to our daunting misconception of the Holy Spirit: God enriched the learning of the Corinthians. To enrich something is, “To add to or increase a desired quality, attribute, or ingredient to produce a certain result.” I am of the opinion that God through the gifting of the Holy Spirit allowed for the enrichment of the Corinthians intellectual growth. This shows that the Corinthians were already learning, and that the Holy Spirit enhanced their growth and speech in order that the knowledge of Christ may be presented clearer.

Colossians 3:23 records, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”8  The word heartily comes from the Greek words “ek psyche” which can be translated “out of one’s very being.”9   God is yelling to us, his deafened followers, “Whatever your hands find to do, do with your entire being as to Me and not men.”10  I believe the greatest mistake we as theological students can err in is believing the misconception that the Holy Spirit is to comfort us when we slothfully fail in our education instead of bring conviction to our self indulgent hearts. When we place ourselves on the thrones of our hearts we lose the ability to recognize the conviction of the Spirit.11  We allow our sinful nature to utilize the Spirit of God as the comforter so that we can protect our kingdom of laziness. Remember, that your hands have found the work of a theological education here at Moody. Education is the object that God has given both you and me as the central focus of our stewardship. As Colossians three reminds us, we are to be stewards for God’s sake and not our own.12  If one is to claim God’s direction in his life, there can exist no room for laziness and complaining.

Paul addresses this topic again in Galatians 6:7-8 in a more philosophical manner. Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”13  Paul uses a common agrarian illustration to show how either virtue or corruption comes from the work of men. The seeds represent the type of fruit one will grow and eventually harvest in his field of life. If you sow virtuous seeds you will reap virtuous benefits. Hard work produces satisfaction, and temperance produces control. Whatever actions you plant you will harvest in due time. If you act in a slothful manner you will find yourself reaping the fruits of slothfulness: poor grades, rebuke from one’s parents, and even the convictions of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes these remarks right after recording the most famous fruits of the Holy Spirit in chapter five. Paul’s desire for the reader is for him to recognize that planting virtuous actions produce the fruits of the Spirit.

This applies directly to our theological education. Think of Paul’s agrarian illustration as your mind being symbolized to that of a garden. In your mind there are only two types of vegetation you can produce: virtuous fruits or corrupt weeds. Every corrupt act of laziness, pride, or jealousy produces intellectual weeds, and every virtuous act of diligence, temperance, and charity produces intellectual fruits. The Holy Spirit cannot be used as a means of instant production of virtue when we act corruptly. Laziness is a corrupt act that results in of the love of one’s sinful nature. When these acts occur the Holy Spirit must in return supply a conviction which will point out the corrupt products and return the man to the growth of virtuous fruits. This cannot and will not happen if we continually comfort ourselves in a false conception of the Holy Spirit. By becoming satisfied with academic failure we are insinuating that the Holy Spirit has watered our corrupt nature and this cannot be true. Rather, our minds should recognize the weeds of our slothful nature choking the fruit of our mind’s intellect. How does one kill these corrupt educational and spiritual weeds?

Read your books, do your assignments, reread your assignments, and ask others to review your assignments. Interact with professors, utilize their office hours, research topics in depth, take notes in class, and actually go to class. Do not complain when you receive poor grades, do not criticize your professors for giving you poor grades, and do not allow yourself to believe the false perception that God does not care about your poor grades. Why do we as theological students never think that poor grades are a source of conviction used by the Spirit? Is a conviction really a holistically spiritual act that one “feels”? Perhaps the Spirit is trying to explain something to our hardened minds through the grades that our professors ascribe to our lazy work. Remember the two statements given at the beginning of the article:

1.The Holy Spirit’s power in one’s life is the cause for a theological education.

2.The Holy Spirit’s power in one’s life causes a devaluation of his theological education.

It is time for you to choose. These to statements are contradictory, and you cannot believe that both are valid statements. Either accept that God directed you to Moody and apply your mind to the theological education that lies before you, or leave Moody. I hope that I do not seem condescending, but convictions sometimes do seem condescending.

In our present theological education the Holy Spirit should be utilized as a means of educational enrichment and not a means of educational hindrance. In Conclusion, I Corinthians 4:2-5 Paul states,

“In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.  For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”14

One is not in danger of losing his salvation for being slothful, but as God tells us in His Word, we are stewards that will be judged for every evil and good deed. Turning in a half-assed “spiritual” assignment is not a godly act at all but rather an evil act and contrasting that, turning in a well-researched assignment that receives a mediocre grade is, in fact, a godly act. Too often students are inclined to think that being enrolled at Moody is in itself a godly thing, but that is a horrible deception cast on us by our sinful nature. May we as students of theology adhere to the conviction of our poor grades and strive to be enriched by the Holy Spirit in our theological education, for this is well-pleasing in God’s sight.

End Notes

1. Guinness, Os. The Call. Nashville, TN: Word, 1998. Print.

2. “Law of Non-Contradiction.” { Philosophy Index }. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <;.

3. “Aristotle on Non-contradiction.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <;.

4. Guinness, Os. The Call. Nashville, TN: Word, 1998. Print.

5. Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit. New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, 1900. Print.

6. Guinness, Os. The Call. Nashville, TN: Word, 1998. Print.

7. The Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible: Updated NASB. Chicago: Moody, 2004. Print.

8. The Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible: Updated NASB. Chicago: Moody, 2004. Print.

9. Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994. Print.

10. Guinness, Os. The Call. Nashville, TN: Word, 1998. Print.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. The Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible: Updated NASB. Chicago: Moody, 2004. Print.

14. The Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible: Updated NASB. Chicago: Moody, 2004. Print.


One comment on “Education and the Holy Spirit by Peter Elliot

  1. Elieti Msangi says:

    A valuable article. People have more often attributed to the Holy Spirit what he has not done. Let’s face the reality of God’s sovereignty (divine standards) and human responsibility (attaining God’s standards)

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