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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament
Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Acts: Knowledge on Fire

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Acts: Knowledge on Fire
Wednesday, July 7, 2021

In Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is fully bestowed on Jesus, the beloved Son who acts with God’s power, speaks with God’s authority, and loves with God’s love. Through the gift of the Spirit given to Jesus, God’s justice is announced and demonstrated as Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem, freeing the sick from their illnesses, liberating the enslaved from their sins, and enriching the poor with the good news of the messianic banquet open to all.

In the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, that same Spirit is bestowed on a body of God’s sons and daughters who surrender their own lives to God’s love. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit overcomes you, and then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The spiritual truth is this: there is a difference between knowledge “on ice” and knowledge “on fire.” For many Christians, their belief is often just knowledge “on ice,” not experiential, firsthand knowledge, which is knowledge “on fire.” Even though we call them both faith, there is a difference between intellectual belief and real trust. There is a difference between talking about transformation and God’s love and stepping out in confidence to live a loving life. Only the second is biblical faith: when our walk matches our talk.

The Spirit teaches us this new walk. When Jesus died, the apostles didn’t have a Spirit-filled faith. Though Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stayed, all but one of the men deserted Jesus on the cross. The apostles were demoralized. They lacked conviction. They had no aim or purpose. But shortly afterwards, they were transformed. Changed from within, they acted, lived, and walked in a new way. These lukewarm followers began to act like people “on fire.” Or as Acts describes them, they are “the people who are turning our whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Brian McLaren writes about the need for the fire of the Spirit today:

In the millennia since Christ walked with us on this Earth, we’ve often tried to box up the “wind” [of the Spirit] in manageable doctrines. We’ve exchanged the fire of the Spirit for the ice of religious pride. We’ve turned the wine back into water, and then let the water go stagnant and lukewarm. We’ve traded the gentle dove of peace for the predatory hawk or eagle of empire. When we have done so, we have ended up with just another religious system, as problematic as any other: too often petty, argumentative, judgmental, cold, hostile, bureaucratic, self-seeking, an enemy of aliveness.

In a world full of big challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion. We can’t try to contain the Spirit in a box. We need to experience the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost. We need our hearts to be made incandescent by the Spirit’s fire. [1]

[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 205.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: The New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 84–86, and

“Luke and Acts: A New Gift,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 9 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
On Maundy Thursday, 25 years ago I was left for dead in a ditch. Three young people saw me and went for help. God immediately called me to forgive with Genesis 50:20: “What you meant for evil God has turned into good. God brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people.” Later that year I became involved in a program that helps in youth detention centers. I was able to tell how I came to forgive, which helped several young boys. Forgiveness changes things. —Kathleen H.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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