Depending on who you talk to, the Holy Spirit is either overly discussed or utterly neglected. Francis Chan would be firmly in the latter group.
“[W]hat if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? . . . [Y]ou would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive,” writes Chan (p. 16). And that’s why Chan wrote Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit—to help believers recapture the necessity of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life.
Running on Fumes
Chan feels that we have lost a robust understanding of the Holy Spirit. We have neglected Him. This neglect has caused us to look and act no differently than our surrounding culture. But this should not be. Chan writes,
If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not? (p. 32)
In this assessment, I think Chan is right on. If our lives do not have a marked difference in any way aside from what we do on Sunday morning, perhaps we have some bigger questions to ask ourselves, no? If we were dead but now live, there should be some kind of marked difference in how we live, what we think and how we speak… shouldn’t there?
Absolutely, there should. And it’s only possible by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is a truth that we dare not take for granted and I appreciate Chan highlighting it.
The Spirit’s Work
Chan does a solid job of reminding readers of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person, a “He,” not an “it.” He is God; eternal & holy; omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. He has emotions, a mind and a will. He prays for us. He teaches and reminds us of what we we need to know. He applies our salvation to our lives. Chan wants these truths to lead readers “to a deeper relationship with and a greater reverence for the Spirit—that good theology would lead you to right action, genuine love, and true worship” (p. 77).
Chan encourages readers to read John 14-16, to notice “how Christ desires that His disciples have peace and how He comforts His disciples with the truth that they are not left alone” (p. 110). He continues,
Part of His answer to how we are to have peace and be comforted is through the provision of the Holy Spirit, the other Counselor, who He promised would come once He left.
Having read these chapters, I notice that the peace that comes with the Holy Spirit is the fuller knowledge of what it means to be grafted into the vine (cf. John 15:1-11), and it’s the Spirit who does the grafting. The Spirit brings us peace and comfort by giving us the words to act as witnesses to the gospel, even as the Spirit Himself bears witness to Christ (cf. John 15:26-27). Truly, the Spirit’s role is to glorify Jesus and to guide us into truth:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)
A Life of Obedience
The heart of Chan’s message is that the Christian life is to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to Christ, to the glory of the Father. We must not quench His work in our lives, caring more for comfort than for holiness. To walk by the spirit is to live a life that is counter cultural and often antithetical to the world in which we live.
But, it’s one thing to talk about what “walking by the Spirit” can be, and another to show it.
Where Chan best illustrates this is in the wonderful biographical sketches of men and women whose lives have been completely transformed as they’ve sought to obey the Spirit’s leading. These serve as testimonies to the truth that the Christian life is one that glorifies God in extraordinary ways.
A married couple in their 50s, Domingo & Irene, fostered thirty-two children and adopted sixteen. A teenage girl who works multiple jobs all summer to sponsor 14 children. Thomas Yun, who gave up a fortune in the restaurant business to work at a rescue mission because he believed that God was calling him to serve there.
These are the stories that move me and inspire me, probably more so than the rest of the book (no offense to the author).
The Primary Voice
What I find lacking is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Chan writes that Spirit “teaches and reminds us of what we need to know and remember” (p. 74), but I think this needed to be more than a bullet point. God’s written Word is the primary means through which God speaks to His people—it is the Spirit who gives us the ability to understand them. It’s through the hearing of the Word that the Spirit’s primary active role takes place, bringing the spiritually dead to life, sealing them as God’s people and sanctifying them (cf. Eph 1:13), all serving to glorify Jesus.
If Scripture is the primary means by which God speaks, it should probably have a more prominent role in any discussion on the Spirit’s work. I would have really enjoyed seeing Chan address this a little more, in addition to focusing on the “private nudging” of the Spirit (which is where he spends the bulk of his time).
Is the Holy Spirit Forgotten?
In Forgotten God, Francis Chan reminds readers just how much we need the Holy Spirit. “There is no such thing as a real believer who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or a real church without the Spirit. It’s just not possible,” writes Chan. Without the Spirit’s active presence in our lives, we cannot live a life of obedience to Christ. The question for you is, is the Holy Spirit forgotten in your life?
Read the book. It’s challenging and there are likely parts you’ll disagree with, but it’s worth investigating.
Title: Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Author: Francis Chan
Publisher: David Cook