In college, we had this joke in the theology department that John Wesley was the third member of the trinity. Being a university with a Methodist heritage, Wesley’s thoughts and writings permeated every class we took. We were reminded of the Wesleyan quadrilateral as we walked through the central courtyard of campus, its pillars on the legs of our clock tower.
Of course, John Wesley isn’t the third member of the trinity. The third member of the trinity is, in fact, the Holy Spirit. As the least understood member of the trinity, only being referenced in scripture hundreds of times (compared to Jesus who is mentioned thousands of times and God who creeps into the tens of thousands), He is the natural pick to jokingly replace with someone more tangible like John Wesley. After all, we like tangible things we can understand, not messy spirits.
When we evaluate our church programs for example, we look at facts and figures; how many students do we have? How many of them have brought a friend? However, there is another way I evaluate my youth group and I wonder if you do it sometimes too. Often, a “good night” for me at youth group seems to be based on performance; both theirs and mine. That’s when I start to ask questions of myself like, “how did I do leading them to worship God?” and questions about their behavior such as “were any of them disrespectful, rude or generally un-christianlike?”
The problem with questions like these is that neither directing students worship of God nor cleaning up their act is my job. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit leads us into the presence of God by teaching us to pray, sing and give thanks to the Lord (Romans 8:26 Ephesians 5:18-20). He also sanctifies us, letting us know when what we are doing is wrong and instilling in us the fruits of doing right (John 16:8, Galatians 5).
Too often we get our role and His role mixed up. A week or two ago, I saw a Facebook post about a church sign that read, “We love gay people enough to tell them they are wrong.” You can imagine the comments on the topic. Like anything on Facebook, it quickly turned into a political debate. Some said that the church was being hateful and others pointed out that of course they felt this way, the church is anti-gay after all. Yet, nobody pointed out the real problem.
The problem was that the church was trying to fill the role of the Holy Spirit. Remember, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and He tends to do it in a much better way than we could ever do it. So many times, I have seen Christians forget the grace they have received and become quick to condemn anyone whose life has not been sanitized. We hold non-Christians to Christian standards and in a way, expect them to get cleaned up before they have even showered. Why? Because it’s tangible. We reduce Christianity to a do good/do bad model because its simpler than living in the messy world of doubts, disbelief and tough questions that non-Christians often have. (Christians have them too, by the way, they just don’t always feel safe enough to admit it.)
John Wesley wasn’t the third member of the trinity and neither are we. So if it isn’t my job to make sure that my students are worshiping correctly and it isn’t my job to sanitize their life of “drink, smoke, chew and girls who do,” then what is my role?
It’s to live in those messy blurry lines on the edge of belief and uncertainty (Mark 9:24). Instead of putting our foot down and condemning anyone who doesn’t believe the same, perhaps we would be better off to seek and pray for the truth to be revealed. I have no fear in telling someone who is wrestling with a question of morality or even God’s existence to pray for the truth, because I have often prayed the same thing in my own doubts. God is big enough to handle those kinds of questions and the Holy Spirit is gentle enough, wise enough and powerful enough to change hearts (both yours and mine) toward the truth.
Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to perform His role and not try to take it over. Let’s seek the truth together with those who do not yet believe and let’s above all, remember that it is by grace we have been saved not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9)