The work of God’s Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is crucial to both godly living and fruitful service, yet it is one of the most misunderstood topics among us. In my younger years the Holy Spirit was referred to as “it,” and was quite distant to most Christian’s conscious everyday experience.
In 1962 Elaine and I attended tent meetings held by the late Mennonite evangelistic and Bible scholar George R. Brunk II. Brother George was a family friend under whose preaching I accepted Christ in the early ‘50’s, but this time he was calling Christians to go deeper in our walk with God.
He proposed that the Holy Spirit is “He,” not “it.” He is personal, and actively at work in us to convict us of sin; to apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse us; and to instruct us and empower us for all that the Christian life involves. This fresh approach was a turning point for Elaine and me.
Beginning in 1971 we were involved in settings where the Holy Spirit is known in the Charismatic or Pentecostal sense, but more recently I have shifted away from certain aspects of that.
The Charismatic Movement
The “Charismatic movement” of the 1970-80’s was a reawakening of the Pentecostal emphasis in the Church. Many Christians were invigorated as they opened themselves to the work of God’s Spirit more deeply. Worship, teaching and fellowship in the Church were profoundly enriched as the scriptures came alive in a fresh and more life-giving way. Some conflict arose however because of immaturity and excesses on the part of “Charismatics,” and misunderstanding and fear on the part of others.
In those circles, “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is viewed as distinct from and subsequent to ones salvation experience and is seen as the time when one is endued with power. To varying degrees there is an emphasis on speaking in tongues as evidence of that infilling.
Houston We Have a Problem
However, here’s the problem I see. Pentecostals and Charismatics profess to be endued with power but often show little evidence of that in actual life and service. They find it easier to rest in the evidence of tongues and/or prophecy, than to be empowered by God to be holy and to win others to Him in their city and to the ends of the earth.
In Africa, Elaine and I concurrently served a very Pentecostal denomination, and a mission that was on the opposite end of the spectrum, and one could make little distinction between them in terms of power or godliness. Actually, some of the most effective servants of God I have ever known were outside of the Pentecostal-Charismatic camp. So, if it’s not one’s theology that makes us holy in living or powerful in ministry - - what is it?
Our big clue comes from Acts 4:13; When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Ooooh yes!! - - they had been with Jesus! The vitality of one’s Christian walk and service is based on the richness or his/her relationship with Jesus. That’s almost too simple.
As is sometimes said, to be fully committed is to have surrendered all of myself that I know, to all of God that I know. As God shows me more, I surrender more. And more. And more. We are being transformed, as in II Cor. 3:18. It is an exhilarating pilgrimage to hunger and thirst for God and to be filled - - and filled and filled as we enter into an increasingly intimate walk with Him. That relation-ship is the foundational source - - and the only trustworthy source of spiritual power.
Receiving the Holy Spirit
Every Christian has the Holy Spirit, as our key verse says. He enters us when we are born again but that is only the beginning of our relationship with Him.
We receive what we believe to receive; and we can’t believe until we understand; and we can’t understand until God uncovers a truth to us. If we have basically been ignorant or fearful of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, it can be a very significant moment when our eyes and hearts are opened to the truth about Him.
We can develop a theology around that and call it “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” but we don’t need to do that. It is only one of many encounters that God intends for us in a dynamic, ongoing walk with Him, some in small steps and some in leaps and bounds!
I understand (and for four decades, taught) the Pentecostal approach that can be developed from the historical accounts of Acts 2, Acts 8 and elsewhere. I now believe however, that those events represent the imparting of the Holy Spirit upon Jews and Gentiles as God initially established His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men. He was now “in” them and no longer just “with” them. John 14:17 He enabled them to experience the life that God provided through Jesus, and empowered them to share it with others. It’s not very complicated!
Some Key Points
Here are some key points to help us walk in truth.
1) Eph. 5:18 instructs us to be filled with the Spirit. The literal meaning there is something like “be being kept filled.” Although we receive the Holy Spirit when we are born again, we must be “filled and refilled” over and over as we grow in Christ!
2) We need to understand that “the Spirit” is the Spirit of Jesus, as in our key verse and in Gal. 4:6, Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Consider Acts 16:7 and Philip. 1:19. The Holy Spirit is not some spooky, mysterious, distant figure. He is “God in you” to represent the Father and the Son and to activate and implement in your life all they have for you. Wow!
3) Know that love is the primary evidence of “God in us.” I Cor. 13 As Jesus said in John 13:35, it is by our love for one another that others will know that we are His. Pursue the Fruit of the Spirit, as in Gal. 5:22-23 and refuse to measure your “spirituality” or that of others by the gifts of the Spirit.
4) Know that the work of God is accomplished by the power of God flowing through those who are filled with the Spirit of God. The spiritual gifts of I Cor. 12 are given primarily to equip us for ministry and we need them today.
Ask God to teach you so you are not uninformed (I Cor. 12:1), and then receive all that He has for you. (V11) Read Matt. 7:7-11 and know that if you are a child of God, you will receive something good when you ask of Him.
Many denominations say that “baptism” means to be “immersed into,” but on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was “poured out upon.”
If baptism means to be immersed, then probably the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts was symbolic of their now being immersed into Christ (Romans 6:3-14) so they could walk in the new life He gives - - and make it known to others!
The Holy Spirit is only properly understood when considered in light of God’s eternal plan of making Himself known to the ends of the earth for the purpose of drawing men to Himself so He can give them eternal life. The “It’s all about me” attitude of so many Christians handicaps that by causing us to either dismiss the need for the Holy Spirit or by tempting us toward unwise focus and expression.
“Christian friendly” America and our diminished sense of what it means to follow Jesus have allowed us to be casual about His Holy Spirit. We have been like a Jeep driving on the highway in 2-wheel drive.
However, the world is growing darker and we will face new challenges to our faith. The future will be more like slogging through a swamp and unless we know how to engage our 4-wheel drive we’ll be stuck in the muck. We will either become dependent upon Him in every aspect of our Christian life and witness, or we will fall.
Now is the time to learn how to do that - - and when we do, we will simply become more like what God always wanted us to be anyway! Regardless of the future it’s “win, win.” Why wait?
This is #6 in the “Thots for Today’s Church” series and is one of many short articles that can be found at www.John2031.com. © 2014, Ken Stoltzfus, P.O. Box 228, Kidron, OH 44636 USA. May be printed for personal use and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes without further permission if proper acknowledgment is given. Bible quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted. Posted: March, 12, 2011, revised 3/7/14