Thoughts on the Holy Spirit

Note: I wrote this as a response to a very difficult and large question, that of the Holy Spirit’s role in the modern church, specifically about Spiritual Gifts. As many know it is very popular in Pentecostal Churches to focus on this issue, but on the other hand the more conservative Christians won’t even touch it with a ten-foot pole. This is my feeble attempt to respond to some of the aspects, but without being able to into detail or back it up Scripturally as I would like. I do not cover all the issues, and my full-view (especially in practical terms) is not defined or explained well here. My attempt is to help all realize that balance must be found and Scripture is the source. I leave the heavy lifting to you, and though I have done much already I am not in a place to share fully yet for I have not come to defined conclusions for now.

I am very, very skeptical of those who act as if the Holy Spirit is no longer active and seldom present today. Those who believe this many times they get tagged with the title “cessationists”, but I am finding this to be a wrong title, for no one believes the Holy Spirit to be “dead”. Actually the question that should be asked instead is: “Where is the Holy Spirit?” The answers given always border the extremes, and if you know history and Scripture, this is a dangerous place to be. Scripture is full of “powerful tensions” such as the free will of man and God’s predestining man’s future, or Christ being fully man while still fully God, or the Trinity of three persons yet one essence. These are things to wonderful and complex for our finite minds to grasp. In the same way we treat Spiritual Gifts as doctrine, as dogma to be taught, instead of what God intended them to be—gifts given by God to his saints to build the church. May I suggest it may be more difficult to understand them than we might think. We must, if we claim to hold the Scripture as our guide, try to carefully discern what the Holy Spirit’s role is in our current age and what that has to do with Spiritual Gifts. On one side of the spectrum we have the Charismatics who put the Holy Spirit and its work at the center of their teaching and theology. Scripture does not do this; it puts Christ at the center, and the Holy Spirit as the silent Helper. They also say that all the gifts are still active and present, centering on the gifts of healing, miracle-working, and tongues. While Paul does talk about these gifts as coming from the Spirit, he talks about it very little in comparison with the other teachings of the Church. The doctrines Paul “harps” on are very clear, such as the Gospel, Christology, and Sin. Spiritual Gifts are not a doctrine, for starters, but even beside this it is not a center-point and not a well-developed point of Paul’s teaching. Spiritual Gifts are largely secondary, because they come upon us by God’s grace and it doesn’t take much work to describe to us what they are and of what value they are (No one had to tell Peter how to speak in tongues at Pentecost).

Yet for every swing of the pendulum on the Grandfather Clock there is a counter swing that is equal to it. These are those who are “cessationists” in teaching, yet “the spirit is dead” in practicality. Miracles no longer exist in their minds, and all supernatural or unexplained activity (even if well-recorded) is claimed to be fraud. Their bias is that the Spirit does not and will not work today; to defend their stance they must throw out all counter evidence. But cessationists do not teach this; they state that the Holy Spirit, God himself, is able to do anything he so desires. God used tongues, healings, and miracles in the time of Christ and the Apostles in an obvious way, and he will again in the future during the End Times and in the Millennial Kingdom. But in between these two ages God is able and willing to do miracles and supernatural things in order to protect and advance his Church.


I must admit that my view of cessationists was wrong and I believed them all to be extremists. Yet Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis to name a few, strongly believed that God had stopped using the gifts of tongues, healing, and miracle-working in our current age and their lives showed great balance in thought and practice.

Now I must argue, simply because of what I see in the world today: miracles have and do occur. The distinction I wish to make is that miracles have been “peppered” as it were across the history of mankind, but only in three main ages (Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the Apostles) have miracle workers existed. Scripture points to Paul and Peter as men who could heal those sick and no one could question its veracity. Outside of these time periods we had the Creation of the world, the Flood in Noah’s time, and many other instances that God worked miraculously. Yet John MacArthur makes a good distinction that these miracles were performed by God on man, not by man through God’s power (as with Moses and the Red Sea). And on top of that, it must be realized that miracles outside of these three ages are few.

Today, do miracles occur? There are too many stories by great and respected men (Brother Yun, Paul Washer, countless missionaries, etc.) to throw away the possibility. In fact, I would say they should be expected, miracles should be expected because we dwell in the presence of an Almighty and living God! More obvious are the stories by countless Muslims who came to Christ through visions in the night, or of those (like George M­­uller) who had prayers answered emphatically.

I think it is safe to say that miracle workers no longer exist; the last ones were the Apostles (the next will be the two prophets in the Tribulation). Yet miracles do exist, and prayer does bring healing if God so wills. But it is God’s answer to a prayer and not the miracle workers gift. Those that are demon possessed can be cured by prayer, if God so wills, but we can no longer invoke authority like Christ and the Apostles did.  Yet we must expect the Spirit to be working, and to pray as if he is living and active. I find myself in this very problem many times: I pray as it were “to an empty sky” and when I pray sometimes I pray for small petty things. I receive small and petty things in response, but God is waiting to send great blessing if we ask in faith. Christ taught this many times, perhaps the clearest being Matthew 21:22 “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

You do not underestimate the power of wind, so don't dare underestimate faith and prayer

Cessationists have correctly diagnosed Scripture and closed the door to the miraculous gifts, but some have erred by not putting into practice faith in prayer, and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this I believe we have much to learn from the Charismatics. They are not wholly wrong, although they are at a far extreme. The Holy Spirit is full of power and it was sent to us by Christ at Pentecost in order to spread the Gospel like wildfire and strengthen the church (John 16:7). Let us begin to act in faith and to pray as to receive, and to do great and difficult things for God knowing that the Holy Spirit is who accomplishes all things, through willing servants. Let us be the willing servants of God! Let us also test the “miracles” of our day and discern which are from God and which are lies which lead astray (Mark 13:22). Above all let us find the truth in Scripture and defend it with all of Scripture. We must teach what all of Scripture teaches, not what fits our worldview or our experience. God help us.

Greensburg, Kansas -- Thankfully the Holy Spirit has come to bring men to salvation, not devastation.

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Holy Spirit

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  1. Pretty good. I’ll probably share this with Don Picini. We had a long Skype conversation the other evening about the gift of tongues and the “second blessing”. He holds a conservative position but cannot deny the reality of certain friends’ experience.
    Dad

  2. 1 Corinthians 12:31 reads: “31But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
    And now I will show you the most excellent way.”

    I would like to add to this discussion that perhaps part of the issue is that those who do not see the Gifts of the Spirit displayed had not earnestly sought them as we are instructed by Paul. I have heard 1 Cor 12 explained simply as a call for unity and not trying to fill other people’s positions in the body. This is true but this explanation neglects the fact the reason God has given all these gifts is because we need them to act as healthy body. I think part of the reason many churches are unbalanced is because someone in authority with one gifting promotes that gift as the only way to glorify God or the members covet the esteem provided by the gift and try to emulate it neglecting the other gifts.

    When we think of gifts, I know that I too often regard them as things given without our foreknowledge. Often I want people to read my mind and give me something that I really desire. We are instructed by Jesus with the gift of the Holy Spirit to ask Him for the Holy Spirit. Here in 1 Cor 12, we are also instructed to “eagerly desire” the greater gifts.

    It is easy to say to desire the Gifts but that command comes directly before 1 Cor 13 which demonstrates how to administer these gifts. In the first paragraph it is clear that we are able to use our gifts without love, which is a fruit rather than a gift of the Spirit. In Gal 5 we see the fruits of the Spirit which mirror the definition of love in 1 Cor 13 which is to say that if we love Biblically, we will walk in the Spirit and administer the Gifts of the Spirit rightly.

    It is interesting to see that the first verse of 1 Cor 14 reads, “1Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy…” We see again the integration of love and the Spiritual Gifts but not one exclusive of the other. I know from experience that those who are more conservative claim that because we have love now that the Gifts are no longer needed and yet when they are honest will admit that they still see darkly. Those who are caught up in the Gifts can say that they are distracted and distant from the love of Christ Jesus having been preoccupied with their gifts.

    So over all I agree with you Chris. I hope this opened up the discussion a little more. I by no means see clearly yet but I agree that this is not fully understood because most of us are captive to tradition on this matter and swing to one or the other extreme rather than taking the narrow road between the two that is the will of God.

  3. Thanks for the comments. The Charismatic movement is no doubt popular and many forms are seen in the church. They key is to determine what the Scripture says and to follow those rules. It is easy to get caught up with the excitement of the moment, but you can do that at a rock concert. God has better in mind, a personal relationship with himself that fulfills our deepest longings and desires.
    Joe,
    It is a good thing you brought up I Cor. 12, as I said I was not able to get into depth on what the Scripture says. This is one of the key passages, but no doubt it is a difficult one. It is our job to identify what is tradition and what is truth. That is a difficult balance, as you acknowledged.
    And love, enough cannot be said about that. I have been thinking a lot about that lately, talked to a missionary from Turkey about it and got much insight. What is the use of all these “spiritual experiences”, or even of any gift if it has not love? As he said, quoting Scripture, “without love I am nothing”. We as Christians should be characterized by our deep love for one another, and for those around us. Not by our traditions or legalism, or evangelism, nor even our “good works”. But by Christ, by them seeing Christ in us as we strive to go deeper in our relationship with our Father in heaven. That means loving one another, working hard at it, so we may honor Christ.

  4. Who am I or who is man to say what can or cannot the Holy Spirit do?

    While is true that some doubtful experiences exist; it is also true that He is sovereign and can act in free will.

    Let us let him work in our lives and his power be manisfested to the glory of the Lord!

  5. Here is an interesting article written by Prof. Johan Malan of the University of the North in the Limpopo Provence of South as part of a study entiteld: Your Word is a Light to My Path
    Africa.ihttp://www.bibleguidance.co.za/EngStudy/Biblestudy%20Lesson%203.htm. Its itresting how hype has replaced the truth in these last days.

  6. Christ said ” the words that I speak to you are Spirit and Truth.” The Word of God is still Holy , and is still Spirit. The Apostle Paul encourages us time and time again to be filled with the Spirit. Inspiring us to Study to show ourselves approved. So that we could correctly divide the Word of Truth. Understanding that because of different dispensations leading to the Church Age it would cause error on our part because of ignorance and neglect of study. We were warned that gifts that were entailed as signs would be done away with. These gifts that were entailed as signs were the signs of an apostle, and according to Revelations in Johns vision there were only 12 Apostles of the Lamb whose names were engraved into each foundation of the wall. So if you claim to have one of these gifts that were entailed as signs you are actually claiming to be an apostle. And according to Revelations 2;2 you can be tried and if you fail to prove it you will be found a liar. The gospel itself is like an unknown tongue to the natural man, and is up to the spiritual man who has studied to show himself approved to interpret or explain. To say” Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, is the same as to say.” “The Word of God lives and abides forever.” And when Peter was filled with the Holy Ghost he began to speak in tongues. And in another passage He was filled and preached the gospel.. they are both the same… Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. And every christian who desires to grow mature understands that we do so by striving to come to the unity of the faith. Every thing must agree in order for it to be valid or Truth. Casting down every imagination that exalts itself above the knowledge of Christ. Forget what we think and listen to scripture as we compare it to other scriptures. If there are any discrepancies then most likely more searching is required. Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us , so that through endurance and the encouragement of scripture we might have hope. The real spiritual gift that any of us should ever be concerned about is Gods Son Jesus Christ, and this more excellent WAY…

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