Jesus’ moral and ethical teachings are great—as far as they go. But how do you decide on important matters, when Jesus’ teachings are silent?
For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate example of how to live a good life. By following Jesus’ lead, we learn and practice loving God and loving others. In fact, those two things, Jesus says, are the most important commandments. Beyond that, matters of religion can become confusing. The Hebrew Scriptures contained not just ten but three hundred sixty-five commandments. Christianity added other expectations onto believers. In modern life, we find that the Bible in general, and Jesus specifically are silent about many issues. So, how do you decide when Jesus’ teachings are silent?
He Will Guide You into All Truth
Jesus knew that his followers would need further teaching, beyond what he had been able to tell his disciples while he was among them. This is why he said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Through a relationship with the living Holy Spirit, Christians continue to grow, learn, adapt, and invent. A religion focused solely on Jesus, as remarkable as he is, will inevitably be limited by the example of his thirty-three years on earth. But faith focused on the Spirit has limitless potential. (Click here to read the companion piece to this article, “Does the Holy Spirit Point to Jesus, or the Other Way Around?)
When the Spirit Has a Better Idea
Here are two examples of when the Holy Spirit has a better idea than Jesus’ followers can even imagine.
- In Acts 10, Peter has a vision of a giant sheet full of animals that were considered unclean by the Mosaic law. A voice, presumably of the Holy Spirit, tells him to kill and eat these animals. Twice, Peter refuses, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” But the Holy Spirit reminds him never to call anything unclean that God has deemed clean. Because of this major shift, Peter feels free to enter the house of the gentile Cornelius. In this case, the Holy Spirit supersedes Old Covenant purity teachings.
- In Acts 15, the Church has a decision to make, regarding new converts. The problem is that circumcision requirements are preventing many men from becoming Christians. Either they can continue this requirement and risk losing followers, or they can relax the obligation and alienate their Jewish contingent. After much prayer and debate, they write to several churches:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit [emphasis mine], and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you.”
Here’s the point: In both of these cases, the Church’s decision violated the law of Moses. Why did they feel free to deviate from the law? Was it because Jesus told them to? No—although Jesus frequently opposed elements of Moses’ law, in both of these cases, Jesus was silent. So, on what authority does the Church make these decisions? In both cases, the Holy Spirit seemed clear that God was doing a new thing. This is why it’s important to understand that the Holy Spirit doesn’t point to Jesus so much as Jesus points to the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who will carry us into the future as we continue to make decisions about issues that Jesus himself never imagined.
How Does This Apply Today?
This same principle applies today to innumerable issues that Christians face. Even red-letter Christians would like to think that Jesus answers all our questions—but the fact is, he doesn’t. It’s the Holy Spirit who will guide us when Jesus’ example is nonspecific. Like the inclusion of Gentiles, this is true for the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks, about whom Jesus took no moral position. I can just hear the Spirit now, saying, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” This same principle applies to others who are marginalized by Biblical law—like the physically challenged, people with diseases, those who suffer from mental illness, and left-handed people. When we understand that the Holy Spirit teaches us, even beyond the words of Moses, Jesus, and the apostles, then we are free to welcome all who are made in the image of God. I’m sure that as you continue to ponder this, you’ll find other examples.
How To Decide When Jesus’ Teachings Are Silent
Do you want to know how to decide when Jesus’ teachings are silent? Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Many say the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus. I say it’s the other way around. Certainly, Jesus is the hinge on which the Christian faith swings. He is the agent of divine grace. He is the fulcrum, the transition point, from the divine Parent’s rules to freedom in the Spirit. Let’s remember, though, that the see-saw tips in the direction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus never wanted our faith to be all about him. Sure, he wants to be our model. But he wants the Holy Spirit to be our teacher as we move forward. Jesus walked the earth for thirty-three years, but the Holy Spirit has been guiding the church now for millennia. Introducing the Church to the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ main mission. Understanding this will be transformational for the Church as it moves into the future.
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