Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)

Alright, I apologize for being a bad blogger and for the second entry on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit taking over a month to complete. I think I'm still getting used to having two kids, and my rhythm is all sorts of jacked up.

Why There Are So Many Views

Ok, so in preparation for this second post on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as revealed to us in Scripture, I had a thought that I wanted to share. As I was pondering why there are so many different views of the Holy Spirit, I realized that since everyone is shaped by their culture and church upbringing (and if you don't have a church upbringing I sort of envy you), our views will tend to reflect what our tradition has taught us. So if you're more on the charismatic end of theology, then you talk about the Holy Spirit a lot, but you can tend to not focus on other important doctrines that are as equally as important. Same thing goes for Baptists. It's ok to talk about the Spirit. You're not going to catch a disease. My point being this: there are all areas of doctrine and theology that we will readily admit to not spending enough time on. The problem for us Reformed guys is that we tend to minimize anything that falls outside of the doctrines of grace, or of the Puritans, Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin, Stott, Piper, Keller, you get the point? We need to keep our minds open to the Holy Spirit (ironic enough as that sounds) and listen to the Lord through the Scriptures.

Ask A Question, and Let Scripture Answer

For part two I thought what would be the best way to go about this doctrine would be very straightforward. In part one we discussed how the Spirit was discussed in Creation, in dealing with the nation of Israel, and the New Covenant. In this part, I want to ask a question, and then let Scripture answer it. How is the Spirit to manifest itself in our lives, and how are we to respond to this? This is a loaded question, and you'll get ten different texts of Scripture from ten different people, but I want to address three texts that deal with this question the most direct, and see what the Holy Spirit says to us through this.

Text Number One: Acts 1.8

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

To truly get this verse in context you need to read the first eight verses of chapter one, and in verse 4 Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they have received the "promise of the Father". But notice something about verse 8. Jesus says there is a power that will come upon the disciples when the Holy Spirit is given. In Luke 24.49, which is the parallel passage in Luke's Gospel account (same author as Acts), Jesus says this: "And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” So what Jesus is saying is that there is a power that the disciples will be clothed with from on high, that will allow them to spread the Gospel.

Now fast forward to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost has arrived. The upper room is rocking with the Holy Spirit, and what does Scripture say what has taken place? The disciples have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. What is the result of this baptism? The disciples are speaking languages that they do not know! We know this from verse 5. Jews who were in town for Pentecost heard words in their own language.

So what does this mean for us? Is the baptism of the Spirit for us today, or was this a one time thing that happened to the apostles and new believers in the New Testament? Do all Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? These are all very good questions, but here is where things might get sticky. As I have done my personal study of the way the Spirit moved, specifically in the book of Acts, I notice that the Holy Spirit is being poured out in a way that was truly unique to the Church's history. Peter points this fact out in his sermon a few verses later in Acts 2. He says, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.'" (Acts 2:16-17). So what is happening in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Joel 2.28-32. Namely, that when God pours out His Spirit upon His people, the kingdom will be advanced for the cause of Christ, and things will happen to promote the name of Jesus to help fulfill the Great Commission.

I realize I have not answered the above questions, and here are my responses: I believe that a person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon conversion, not later. For those who like to point to Acts 2 as proof of this happening, first, you are not an apostle and are not a part of the first Church. This was a specific period of history for the Church, and God used this specific manifestation of His Spirit to point this out. Secondly, when you speak in "tongues" (glossolalia), you are babbling for yourself, not for the edification of the body of Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 14. Now, I want to say something here. I believe that God can use a person preaching the Gospel and supernaturally translate to another language. It is indeed supernatural, and not the norm. But just because it can happen, does not necessarily mean that it will. Next, if you claim that the evidence for the baptism is speaking in tongues, you have contradicted yourself because does not Paul himself say that "For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (1 Corinthians 12.8-11). In the context of the spiritual gifts, not everyone has the gift of tongues, and that is important to remember because the gifts are not ends in themselves, which is one reason why the Church at Corinth was so messed up (among other reasons). To say that the main evidence for a person's baptism of the Holy Spirit is tongues is like saying all lawyers make bank. Not all lawyers do. There are criminal lawyers, civil lawyers, tax lawyers, and the pay-grade is not all the same. That is why this historical argument makes no sense to me. And to make matters even more entertaining, Paul says that this is the least of all the gifts. And just like the Church at Corinth, we have put it on a pedestal to make it superior, when in fact it is the smallest. It's the only gift mentioned that needs help understanding it!

The last thing that I want to say about this before moving on is that the entire motivation and heart of all the gifts (tongues included) is love. Read the first few opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Notice that all the emphasized and underlined portions are, in fact, the spiritual gifts that Paul has just described in the previous chapter. All of it is in vain, if it is not done in love. And that is the big picture. I want to make that clear, because like the Church in Corinth, many churches today like to focus on the gifts rather than the Gospel and the motive behind the gifts.

Text Number Two:
Galatians 5.16-18

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."
This text is not near as "controversial" as the previous text, but I find this text just as important. To grasp the idea behind this text, you have to understand Galatians. Real quickly, Galatians was written by Paul to the Christians in Galatia for rebuke in their theological errors. This is actually a common theme in the letters of Paul in the New Testament, so that would in and of itself be a fun study apart from this one if you want to get in to that. But I digress all this to make this point: In life you have two paths; God's path or your own. You can go your own way (thank you Fleetwood Mac), but just lightly reading the New Testament it is clear that God's way is the path to holiness, happiness, and above all things, eternal joy. When we walk in the Spirit, we war against our flesh and the world that we loved until we met Christ. I think any Christian who does this must experience an enormous amount of pain, because, as cheesy as this sounds to me, part of being obedient to the Spirit is to die. See the connect there? Obe"die"nt?? Ha ha? Anyway, it is the truth. Taking up the cross is not fun stuff, especially when you not only have your own flesh to battle, but the world, and the devil himself (Ephesians 6.10-20).

Walking in the Spirit does not mean we're the weirdo who keeps a vile of anointing oil on us at all times, listens to only contemporary worship music, and dresses like Ned Flanders. I am not knocking you if you do all three. Walking in the Spirit means you communicate with God constantly. You don't have to have an hour quiet time to do this. Just keep the channel open and His Spirit will speak to you. Every day is not the same in this regard, although I wish it was because I love the days when I hear His voice so clear. But our job is to be ever seeking of Him, and He is faithful to us.

The main thrust of this passage is walking in the Spirit is rooted and grounded in love. This doesn't sound so crazy once you think about it. Look at verse 13-15 of this same chapter:
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."
-Galatians 3.15-16
Paul is laying down a very simple rule here: If you do not love one another (and this is also true if you don't love God like you should), your walk with the Spirit will not produce much fruit and you will constantly be torn between your flesh and the Spirit. This is the reason why the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is such a beautiful chapter when it pertains to spiritual gifts, not because we need instruction on them, but the main thrust of them is love. When we realize 1 Corinthians 13 is not a marriage text, we can see it for what it truly is: the motivation and fuel for spiritual gifts.

Now that has been said, let me clarify a point. This is sad that I have to make this point, but all the same: You are not in sin if you war with your flesh. The Bible makes it clear that we will all do that until we no longer live on this planet (Romans 6:16-18, Romans 7:18-20, Romans 8:9-11). Also, we are to put our flesh to death (Col. 3:1-10), but we are to struggle with it. This is a stark contrast to what Wesley and Finney both preached. The believed that we could attain sinless perfection while on this earth, and the only problem with that is the Bible. Nowhere in the New Testament is it found that sanctification ends on this planet. This is a somewhat popular theology in more Pentecostal Holiness circles, and one that gets embraced more often than not. This is one reason why there are so many legalistic Christians out there, who are a lot like Ned Flanders; they don't drink beer, don't watch R-rated movies, don't want their kids to be influenced by "the world" so they home-school them, etc. Not only is that arrogant thinking, but it is flat out heresy. Until God calls us home or Jesus comes back, we will wrestle with our flesh, the world's ideologies, and the enemy.

Text Number Three:
Ephesians 5.18

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."
I love the book of Ephesians. I really do think it is my favorite book of the New Testament. Ephesians and Romans always have that battle for my ultimate allegiance. Anyway, the reason I love Ephesians is because it is written to the Church, and the first three chapters deal specifically with the theology of the Church.

The last three chapters is all practicalities, and in the middle really, we have our text as quoted above. How are we to be filled with the Spirit? In all fairness, I didn't really give any of us justice, because this verse has to be read in context. The following few verses say this after they say to be filled with the Spirit: "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5.19-21). Since this verse really deals with the corporate context as opposed to the personal, we'll go that route first, then we will go personal.

First, the Spirit filled Church is to be humble. I love that last phrase "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" because so many churches do not adhere to this at all! So many Christians have their own agenda when it comes to the local church, that if you could get past your arrogant heart for more than three minutes, you would see that serving others is a pretty common command of Paul in his epistles (see Rom. 12:10, Col. 3:12-13, Phil. 2:1-10 for starters). This is one way for the Church to be Spirit filled. Personally, how do you do at this? If you're like me, the answer is pretty rotten. If I'm being honest, and I am, I want to be better than everyone, want to be smarter when it comes to the Bible than anyone, and I want to be first. This is not the attitude of the Scriptures. I have to plead with the Lord constantly for forgiveness from my stubborn, arrogant heart, and to humble me because only then can I truly be on His side (James 4:6). If you find this a hot topic for yourself, go buy C.J. Mahaney's book titled Humility: True Greatness. It is a fantastic read. I can personally vouch for it by saying it has changed the way I do certain things in my life.

The second way that we are Spirit filled is we are thankful. Look at Ephesians 5.20. "Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". This idea works hand in hand with the idea of humility. We give thanks to God for literally everything, so that means in-laws, crappy job, being the subject of ridicule, all those things, be thankful for them. Why? Because the Spirit of God is with you, and His promise is that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Giving thanks also displays the attitude of the condition of your heart. Outside of the Gospel your heart is a wicked idol factory (Jer. 17). But through the cross of Christ your heart has been replaced with a heart of flesh, rather than having a heart of stone (Ezek. 36). A heart of flesh is pliable. It can be moved. And when you as a person are thankful, it shows that the Holy Spirit is a constant voice in your heart. Likewise, when a church is Spirit filled, there is an attitude of grace because all has been forgiven through the cross, and that same grace is extended to others who are in dire need of it. Not everyone is on the same page spiritually. I was reminded of that this morning at church. We need to be agents of grace in our spiritual communities if we are to truly give thanks. A church that has the true knowledge of the Gospel will not have room for those who exalt only in their own thankfulness. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. A church who does this understands that the Gospel is not merely preached on Sundays; it is a way of life.

I think there has been much abuse to this idea of being filled with the Spirit. I know in charismatic circles they use the phrase "getting drunk with the Spirit". I find that to be a very shallow exposition of this text, and to miss the point entirely. There are indeed times when the Spirit of God will fill you with such emotions as joy, peace, love, thankfulness, gratitude, that they cannot be expressed in mere words. They must be praises sung to the Creator God for giving all that He has given. This in contrast to the first example, is a more biblical way of seeing oneself filled with the Spirit.


I've always been a huge fan of worship music; I always have been. Even this morning as we were singing praises to our King at church, I felt the warm, loving touch of the Spirit in my heart as I sang. I cried, felt humbled, felt like dancing, and felt reverent fear all in the time frame of about thirty minutes. The Spirit can move as He wishes (John 3:8) and it is my deepest desire to have more of Him, to sing more about Him, and to worship Him. I feel honored that He called me and chose me to be His Son before time began. In short, we need to understand who God is, what He's done for us, and what our response should be towards His great love for us. I am amazed at the fact that we have such a Savior who would send us a Comforter, and that is exactly what the Spirit is by the way, that we would never be without Him, ever. My mind still has trouble with that simple truth. Above all, I want the Spirit more in my life, my ministry, my marriage, my parenting, all of it. I want more. I think in the end that is the right response to what we see in Scripture, and in the lives of the saints that have gone before us. May I conclude with a benediction from the letter of Jude:

"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. "

Let it be so, Lord. May Your name be praised and may the Gospel of Your Son continually sanctify us by Your truth.


  1. Hey Ryan, I remember the backlash against your comments on Wesley/Finney when I originally posted this on my Facebook page; it was intense. Anything you would take back from this post now?

  2. I think the main reason for the backlash was the comments were read out of context, but I still assert my point that sanctification ends when Christ calls us Home. Having studied Wesley a little more, my respect for him has actually gone up. He knew and loved the Gospel, he was just a little confused on the free will/election issue.

    Finney I have no respect for. The man lied to a council of Reformed pastors so he could preach, and after he started denying the very things he swore to teach he basically said, "I never said that." He may be the father of modern revivalism in America, but he preached the Gospel out of selfish interests rather than seeing souls respond to Christ. Shameful. Oh and his Systematic Theology is a joke. :)

  3. Crazy. Didn't know any of that stuff about Finney. As for John Wesley, I think you took a pretty hard line on him for a little while, mostly because of his teaching about perfectionism. 1 John 1.10 seems to say that if we think we're perfect (as Wesley taught we could be), then God's word isn't in us and we aren't even Christians. Do you still see any kind of connection between that verse and John Wesley's teaching, or was he kind of back-and-forth in his teaching on the subject?


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