This is part I in a series on the Holy Spirit
It may be hard to believe, but I actually knew a pastor who asked his worship leader to remove all songs mentioning the Holy Spirit. How sad…in his zeal to avoid charismatic excesses, he actually quenched the Spirit.
Why is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit so confusing when the Bible is crystal clear on the need for the Spirit’s power? In my opinion, one of the problems is “balance”, or a lack thereof. Many churches tend to embrace one extreme, or the other. Some have identified the two extremes as resembling either circuses or cemeteries. In the circus environment, anything goes. Ungodly behavior is excused by saying, “The Spirit is moving.” Often, the Spirit is not moving; human emotions, and fleshly impulses are. The Holy Spirit may, or may not be present, but sheer outward acts are no guarantee.
If you have ever been to a major league game, you may have noticed that fans (all who are clearly devoted to the players) come in all shapes and sizes, and with a spectrum of personalities. They all express themselves differently. I want to be careful not to discredit this. With that said, the Spirit doesn’t descend on chaos and confusion, He works through brokenness, humility, and surrender. Be careful not to confuse “Spirit-filled” with sheer emotionalism, or an emotional experience. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones cautions: “Never interpret Scripture in the light of your feelings and experiences, but rather, interpret your feelings and experiences in the penetrating light of Scripture.” I’m in no way discounting powerful moves of the Spirit, but I am suggesting that we “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1) We should thank God for our emotions, but they are the caboose, not the engine. They should follow…not lead.
At the other extreme lies the cemetery. Good churches have died pursuing knowledge instead of anointing, theology instead of surrender, hermeneutics instead of holiness…you get the picture. We can “stand on sound doctrine” but rarely sit under the fountain of life. We study to be powerful in the pulpit, but rarely kneel in prayer to receive the Spirit’s power. As a result, we focus on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Word.
We can be “Bible taught,” but not “Spirit led”—straight as a gun barrel theologically, but just as empty—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Corinthians 3:6). This is fertile ground for the modern-day Pharisee. This is the group Samuel Chadwick (1840-1932) was no doubt referring to when he said, “The Church has lost the note of authority, the secret of wisdom, and the gift of power through its persistent and willful neglect of the Holy Spirit of God.”
Don’t get me wrong, I grow from studying systematic theology, and the Greek and Hebrew Interlinear Bible; they are essential tools, but how often are we taught to fast and pray for wisdom? How often are we taught brokenness and repentance instead of how to dissect and translate the Greek and Hebrew—more concerned about a Master’s Degree rather than a degree from the Master? To be filled with the Spirit, we must be first emptied of pride and arrogance. The key is to balance sound doctrine, humility, and the power of the Holy Spirit. After all, the New Testament church was Spirit-filled. We should not fear the filling, power, anointing, and unction of the Spirit. As a matter of fact, one should never step into the pulpit, or lead a ministry without this empowerment. If the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and Jesus and the Apostles began their ministry in the power of the Spirit, we would be wise to ask for His guidance as well.
In closing, let’s be clear here: The Holy Spirit is not some mystical force; He’s part of the triune nature of God. The Bible says that the Spirit intercedes, leads, guides, teaches, and so on. (See Romans 8:26; Acts 8:29; John 16:13.) He enables and empowers us to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and to boldly live for Christ. God’s Word becomes living and active in the life of the believer who is continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Charles Spurgeon said it best, “What can a hammer do without the hand that grasps it, and what can we do without the Spirit of God?”
I sincerely believe that the greatest need in the lives of Christians today is the power of the Spirit. It’s been said that if the influence of the Holy Spirit were removed from the early church, 90 percent of the work would have ceased. Unfortunately, it appears that if the Holy Spirit were removed from the church today, 90 percent of the work would continue.
It’s sad to think that the only thing holding many churches together today is social activity, not the activity of the Spirit. When we fail to embrace the Spirit’s power, we become powerless.