If you desire to fit in with Charismatics, you have to learn how to use 2 Cor. 3:17b:
“… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
If you are an exegete, or at the very least a careful reader of Scripture, you’ll notice that I did not use the entire verse. Nope, just the last half… the part that emphasizes that the Holy Spirit brings freedom. The next time you find yourself hanging out with some Charismatics, drop that verse after someone shares something or expresses themselves and you’ll receive many looks of approval and a few hearty amen’s. Trust me on that one.
I’ve been hanging out with Charismatics for a long time. I’m part of their guild since I’m a Continuationist, though that doesn’t mean I’m a Pentecostal or that I’m convinced that all of the practices that happen in this stream of Christianity are…
good wise legit the Holy Spirit.
Now if I’m honest, every time I hear people quote that verse in a way that gives a stamp of approval for everything that has either happened or is about to happen, I want to scream. How un-charismatic of me, I know. But it’s true. That verse has been the “proof-text” for some of the most bizarre activities I have ever seen. And it’s always used in a way that suggests that if you have any questions about certain practices, you most definitely are a legalistic-person-who-keeps-God-in-a-box-and-absolutely-despises-the-work-of-the-Holy-Spirit-because-you-are-so-busy-quenching-his-work. Yes, that is a technical term.
Despite the fact that many of us read the word “freedom” through the lens of western-democratic-political ideals, there’s a very specific context in which Paul is framing that statement. If we can move beyond seeing the freedom that the Spirit brings as the right for us to do and say whatever it is we so desire, we’ll start to understand Paul’s point. After all, Scripture explicitly states that if what we’re doing or saying is not building up the Body or glorifying God, we shouldn’t do it (cf. 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
What are we free from? That’s the most natural question that we need to ask. The answer to that question must come from the context, not an outside political or socially motivated influence. Paul is describing a freedom from something in that it is freedom to something. Better yet, it’s freedom to someone.
Paul’s insights likely interact with Moses’ shining face (Exodus 34) and how the Jewish people responded to the thrust of the Hebrew Scriptures (the “old covenant,” palaias diathekes). The apostle’s point is that the “veil” that is over the eyes of many Jewish people is one that causes their minds to be hardened to Jesus, the Christ. And “only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor. 3:14).
You see, the “freedom” that comes through the Spirit is the same type of freedom that Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 12:3 – “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” It’s a soteriological freedom, not a charismatic freedom. This is to say that when Paul says that there is freedom by the Holy Spirit, he means that we are free to see and proclaim Jesus for who he is. It’s not about the Holy Spirit giving us the golden ticket to approach worship with an “anything goes” attitude. No, it means that we are freed from being unable to envision Jesus as the glorious Son of God to seeing him in his glory and making him known! No longer seeing and preaching that he was a poor desperate criminal but we see him and proclaim that he is the glorious King of Kings! Or, as Garland writes,
“In the context freedom has to do with freedom from the veil that only comes when one turns to the Lord (3:16, 18). Because Israel did not have the Spirit to make their hearts receptive to God’s law, they were kept from beholding God’s glory. Using metonymy, Paul employs the term “the veil” to represent the people’s hardheartedness that thwarted their ability to experience God’s glory to its fullest extent. If the veil represents the stiffnecked sinfulness of Israel, it follows as a corollary that when that veil is removed, freedom from the law of sin and death results.” (David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 197)
It’s important to understand that the freedom to see is the freedom to preach and proclaim and share and tell people about. There is, as far as I’m concerned, a difference between the OT people of God having the Spirit with them and the NT people of God having the Spirit in them. If he is in us, we have the empowering presence to love, trust, and proclaim at all times! Again, Garland is helpful when he writes,
“In the age of the Spirit, there is no need for veils, which is what marks the contrast between Paul and Moses. Paul does not veil himself or his gospel but makes things evident and spreads the knowledge of God (2:14; 4:6) for all to see (3:2). The uncovered face of Paul that looks up to God also turns uncovered to others. “Freedom” parallels the boldness in 3:12. Freedom is not freedom from some constraint. Paul has in mind “freedom of speech, boldness, openness, and honesty in proclaiming and defending the gospel (cp. 2:17; 4:1f.).” Paul is free and can use boldness, not because he personally is different from Moses but because those who belong to the new covenant are different from those who belong to the old. He proclaims the gospel to the Corinthians boldly, without holding anything back.” (Ibid.)
Now, some people will read this and say, “See, this proves that Paul doesn’t mean you have the freedom to do back flips and somersaults and run around with tambourines and streamers and flags while shouting the name of the Lord at the top of your lungs!”
On the contrary, it is precisely because I have been freed from the bondage of my sin nature that I sometimes want to do back flips and somersaults and run around with tambourines and streamers and flags while shouting the name of the Lord at the top of my lungs. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t think about how the way I express worship to God will affect those around me, because we should (again, see the previously mentioned texts regarding building up the church and glorifying God). Not everything that we personally consider worship builds up the church or glorifies God. But we do live in what some refer to as the “age of the Spirit.” So let’s celebrate that in all of it’s glory and splendor! Freed to view and proclaim!
So yeah, keep on using the text around your Charismatic friends, but I hope you can thicken your understanding of the text’s application. It is about worship, but not in the “let’s sing some songs and clap our hands and shout out loud” type of sense per say. It’s is more like the Holy Spirit has freed you from the domain of sin and death so that you can worship Jesus as Lord of all.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… but don’t get crazy.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.