If the Spirit is leading Christians, why are Paul’s commands needed?

John Piper, in his thesis on “Enemy Love” covers an interesting question: “If the Spirit is leading Christians and yielding fruit, why does Paul and the early Christian tradition with him think it necessary to command them specifically and repeatedly to love their enemy?” Piper’s answer is below:

“If the almighty Spirit of Christ is leading the Christians and yielding fruit, why does Paul and the early Christian tradition with him think it necessary to command them specifically and repeatedly to love their enemy? The presupposition underlying this question is that the leading of the Holy Spirit takes place through a private communion with the divine in which the Christian is informed of the right and motivated to do it apart from human influences. This, however, was not Paul’s understanding of the way the Spirit worked. This may be illustrated first from II Cor 5:20. Here we find the well-known imperative, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ Nevertheless, it is a clear element of Paul’s theology that a man’s reconciling himself to God is the work of the Spirit (I Thess 1:5); it happens only when the creator ‘shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (II Cor 4:6; cf II Cor 4:16,17; Rom 9:16; Eph 2:8). From a false preconception of how the Spirit of God works one could theoretically deny the need for the imperative ‘Be reconciled to God!’ on the ground, namely, that God is great enough to accomplish our salvation without humans stepping in to inform us of our need and God’s offer. This objection fails to see that man does not merely step in; he is called in, indeed he is drawn in even before his birth (Gal 1:15). He is made an ambassador of the risen Christ (ὑπὲρ ριστοῦ οῦν πρεσβεύομεν, II Cor 5:20), and thus speaks on Christ’s behalf (δεόμεθα ὑπὲρ χριστοῦ). “Indeed, it is not merely man but God who says, ‘Be reconciled.’ In other words God has chosen not to do his saving work privately with an individual; rather he makes his appeal through men (ὼς τοῦ θεοῦ παρακαλοῦντος δἰ ἡμῶν). Here we do not see a conflict between a human imperative and God’s work in the heart. Rather we see a single working of God, from one side, making his appeal through men and, from the other side, enlightening the heart (II Cor 4:6). The fact that God’s speaking is here called παρακαλοῦντος (II Cor 5:20) suggests that this same pattern may characterize the παράκλησις in general.

The point at which this divine word meets the believer effectively is in the ‘body of Christ.’ The paradoxes of Christian ethics find their practical solution in the local community of believers. This is suggested by the following observations. For the Christian ‘all things are permitted.’28 This does not mean for Paul that the question of sin no longer exists for the Christian. The question of good and evil still exists but is answered not by referring the Christian to legal codes or to his own private experience of the Holy Spirit, but rather by placing him in the body of Christ. ‘All things are permitted but not all things συμφἐρεῖ (I Cor 6:12). But in the body of Christ ‘each is given the manifestation of the Spirit πρὸς τὸ συμφἐρον’ (12:7). ‘All things are permitted but not all οἰκοδομεῖ. But in the body of Christ ‘the one who prophesies speaks to men οἰκοδομήν’ (14:3), indeed ‘all things are to be done for the οἰκοδομήν’ (14:26). In other words, the ethical question for the completely free man is answered not with a legal code which specifies what is permitted, nor by mere private communion with the Spirit, but rather with his incorporation into the body of Christ in which the Spirit of Christ ‘leads’ his people through the apostolic paraenesis, the prophetic utterance and the enlightenment of the heart.”

Its interesting to hear Piper put it that way. The Christian alternative to “legal code” is not mere private communion with the Spirit, but being incorporated into the body of Christ in which the Spirit of Christ ‘leads’ his people through:

  • Apostolic paraenesis
  • Prophetic utterance
  • Enlightenment of the heart

I think not to different from historic Anabaptist pulling together of community & Spirit.

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