Have the Right Spirit and Only the Right Spirit in You
If we’re honest, we Baptists must admit to having an uncomfortable relationship with the Holy Spirit. We read the book of Acts, especially the account of the Day of Pentecost in chapter two, with its supernatural occurrences, and we wonder why that kind of thing has never occurred in our very sincere worship services and if it did, how would we handle it? It’s a weird feeling to be a little envious of something and at the same time dread it ever happening to you.
The Church has responded to these mixed feelings in two extreme views. On the one hand (the left hand, let’s say) we have Pentecostalism. Folks on that extreme end of the spectrum say that not only are these supernatural manifestations of the Spirit still available for our times, but they should also be normal. They say, “It happened in the Bible, it should happen in the Church.” For example, if you don’t speak in tongues, you probably aren’t saved.
On the other hand (the right one, since this is a conservative position) we have Cessationism. These folks say we don’t experience these supernatural events in church and we’re not supposed to because they were for the early church only and they have ceased to be given. They served the purpose of validating the truth of the Gospel in the ancient situation, but nowadays we know more and aren’t persuaded by such things. In these churches, your salvation is in doubt if you attempt to speak in tongues.
Will it surprise you if I suggest a place in the middle of these two extremes? I say we approach Bible passages about the Holy Spirit the same way we approach the rest of the Bible. First, we understand the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. The Bible writers told us some supernatural things happened when the Holy Spirit showed up. They never wrote that we should expect the same or that these experiences were normal. They simply related what happened.
Second, they never wrote, “Don’t expect this to happen to you; this was a one-time deal.” Paul wrote about all the Gifts of the Spirit as being operative for the Church at all times, including the Gifts of Tongues and Prophecy. Its more philosophy than Bible study to say that certain Gifts have ceased, and others continue into modern times.
Where does that leave us? I’ll tell you at the end of these remarks. Before that, we will note five things we must do in our daily Christian walk to follow the Spirit’s lead, wherever He may lead us. These things are adapted from an article by Sam Storm entitled “Seven Ways to Quench the Holy Spirit.” I’m attempting to state it more positively.
1. The Holy Spirit is the source of our hope. (Romans 15:13)
I PRAY THAT GOD, THE SOURCE OF HOPE, WILL FILL YOU COMPLETELY WITH JOY AND PEACE BECAUSE YOU TRUST IN HIM. THEN YOU WILL OVERFLOW WITH CONFIDENT HOPE THROUGH THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
We must acknowledge is that trying to follow Christ in our own strength and wisdom is a sin. It is contrary to the Scripture. We can’t earn salvation by our works and we can’t work out our salvation in our own pitiful powers. All efforts to persevere and/or be patient that depend on willpower, or any other worldly means are contrary to the Spirit. Hope is the example of this principle given in this passage. Our hope is in God alone. We don’t create hope by imagination or cheerleading, we anticipate a bright future that will be established by God, one that is described throughout the Bible.
2. The Holy Spirit gifts us with power to do ministry together. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
A SPIRITUAL GIFT IS GIVEN TO EACH OF US SO WE CAN HELP EACH OTHER.
Every Spiritual Gift is a way in which the Spirit is made visibly evident in our midst. A purpose of these Gifts is to prove that Christ is in us and that our hope is a secure one. But the Gifts also serve a practical purpose: they empower and equip us to HELP EACH OTHER. We can HELP each other because of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Ministry done in our Gifts can be manifest in everyday acts facilitated by a Gift of Hospitality and in unusual ways as facilitated by a Gift of Miracles, for example. Whether our acts of ministry are usual or unusual, they all serve the purpose of building the Church.
3. The Holy Spirit works in our plans and in spontaneity.
Twice — in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 — Paul referred to “spiritual songs” in comparison to “psalms” and “hymns.” Unfortunately, Paul did not offer a definition of the term, so we are left to make educated guesses as to what “spiritual songs” might be. Here’s Pastor Storm’s educated guess: “I believe the best explanation of what Paul meant by ‘spiritual songs’ are unrehearsed, unscripted, and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.” Pastor Sam Storm may have correctly defined “spiritual songs.” If so, the contrast between the two kinds of music makes the point that the Spirit facilitates both planned and spontaneous acts of worship.
To further support of the idea that the Spirit works in things that are planned and things that are unplanned (by us), read Paul’s instructions about the use of the Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:29–31. To summarize, Paul advised setting aside our planned worship when a spontaneous potentially Holy Spirit even happens. The principle set forth here is to evaluate what’s happening according to what the Bible says. If it is in harmony with Scripture, let it play out. If not, shut it down.
4. The Holy Spirit guides us by our intellect and intuition, resulting in heartfelt emotions.
Luke 10:21 tells us that Jesus praised the Father because He was “FILLED WITH THE JOY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.” (Luke 10:21). One of the reasons Methodists and Baptists enjoyed such success in opening new churches in the American West was that their worship was Revivalist. It was characterized by enthusiastic singing, impassioned preaching, and grand movements of the Spirit. Are you surprised? We’ve liturgized and legalized and intellectualized our worship to scour out those emotional experiences. We’ve emphasized “dignity” to the exclusion of spirituality, ending up more like a service club than a gathering of Spirit-led believers.
I don’t orchestrate worship services to produce emotional experiences. Our goal in worship is to glorify God, not to “have a good time.” Nevertheless, every worship service should be an emotional experience with our displays of emotion tempered by our knowledge of Scripture and directed by the Holy Spirit. Every emotional state, from laughter to sorrow, is biblical and can be an appropriate way to glorify God IF it comes from the Holy Spirit.
5. We must take care to avoid stifling the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
DO NOT STIFLE THE HOLY SPIRIT. DO NOT SCOFF AT PROPHECIES, BUT TEST EVERYTHING THAT IS SAID. HOLD ON TO WHAT IS GOOD. STAY AWAY FROM EVERY KIND OF EVIL.
Here’s the simple guideline Paul commended regarding the work of the Holy Spirit: Stop making assumptions and stop making rules. Let the Spirit work as the Spirit wills. We are not to accept everything that sounds godly as being of God. We’re not to make assumptions: we’re to identify it as good (coming from God) or evil (coming from the devil), and then treat it accordingly. We are not supposed to reject everything that is unplanned or unfamiliar. Instead, we’re commanded to TEST every claim to speak for God. This includes the weekly claims I make. Don’t take my word for it: compare it with Scripture and the evidence of works.
The Spirit is given us so we can exercise biblically informed discernment. We exercise are to exercise due diligence and stop stuffing God in a box. He doesn’t always work in the same way. We must be alert, not lazy.
The book of Acts tells us what happened in the First Church. God may choose to repeat what happened or He may act differently. We will neither make those historical passages normative nor will we deny what happened before can happen again. I suggest we let God be God and do what He chooses in our individual situation just as He did in the individual situations reported in the NT. Then we honor what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit: “THE WIND BLOWS WHEREVER IT WANTS. JUST AS YOU CAN HEAR THE WIND BUT CAN’T TELL WHERE IT COMES FROM OR WHERE IT IS GOING, SO YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN HOW PEOPLE ARE BORN OF THE SPIRIT.” (John 3:8).
Think of the church like a sailboat. What do sailors do when the wind blows? They try to fill their sails with it. They use the wind to create momentum. We should do the same. Instead of trying to explain away the mystery of the Holy Spirit with our feeble philosophizing or our disrespectful legalism, we must do as the Spirit directs, in line with the course the Spirit has revealed in the word. We must exercise discernment to stay on course while using the wind of the Spirit to fill our sails.
Sam Storms is lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.