THE HOLY SPIRIT: THE PERSON
I reacted negatively to an article on the Holy Spirit in a well-known Christian magazine. At first I couldn’t understand why. For many years the writer was afraid of the Holy Spirit and his work. She concluded at the end of her article that she now trusted the Holy Spirit and had surrendered to him.
After some thought I recognized the offending word: surrender. Now why should this word bother me so much? I have heard the word through the years as a Christian, but I had never thought of the implications behind the word.
Surrender implies control. Surrender means that someone else is stronger and has taken away our ability to decide direction and choice in our lives. We are at the mercy of the one we have surrendered to. In the world’s context, it means that an enemy has conquered us and forced us to give up. Surrender is not a nice word.
The Holy Spirit: The Power
Can we ever view the Holy Spirit as the enemy? Of course not! Should we ever think of the Holy Spirit as one who overpowers us?
At times the Spirit of God has been so strong that people weep and even fall down. His presence and the force of repentance or joy can overwhelm us. It does happen on occasion.
Nevertheless, my Bible gives the impression of a Holy Spirit who is gentle — a quiet whisper to Elijah. A tongue of fire — not a burst of flame — to the ones gathered in Acts. Jesus called him the comforter and the one called alongside (to help). These are hardly power terms.
Then we have the admonition, “grieve not the Holy Spirit;” it shows the Holy Spirit has feelings and infers that we can overrule him. Otherwise, how can we grieve him?
The Holy Spirit did not come into the world to overwhelm us or to conquer us and make us surrender to his will. God did not give us the Holy Spirit so we could disappear in him, any more than he intended that we disappear in Christ.
God gave us the Holy Spirit to partnership with us in our Christian walk. He is the teacher. He convicts of sin but he doesn’t force us to repent.
The Holy Spirit’ Presence
During our years as missionaries, the Holy Spirit has done some strange things. Often his working does not make Westerners comfortable. We know of several Christians in Ethiopia, Sudan and North Africa who had their first encounters with the Gospel and Jesus through dreams.
In Mexico the Holy Spirit instructed an Indian in a dream to go the next day to the marketplace. There he would meet a foreigner and he was to help that person. The Indian was not a believer at the time. The foreigner was looking for an Indian to help in Bible translation. Odd to hear such stories but not out of character for the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit in Question
We must decide when the Holy Spirit directs an activity and when he doesn’t. When we were in Sudan, a church leader asked us to evaluate some unusual occurrences in the church that were causing disruption and confusion. He was personally afraid of going against the Holy Spirit’s working but felt ill at ease.
Connie and I went to the church service and observed. We saw people overcome in the spirit swinging their arms about. After a while several circles of peoples had formed with an arm swinging worshiper in the center.
We noticed a pattern: the only people swinging their arms in ecstasy were older teenage girls. We felt that the Holy Spirit would be out of character to act in a partial way and not touch other age or gender groups. Connie went up to one girl, touched her and quietly said, “Stop it!” The young woman did.
I question the services where the Holy Spirit overcomes believers and they bark like dogs. I personally doubt the Spirit is working when Christians sound like animals. The Scriptures tell us that God made us a little lower than the angels. When King Nebuchadnezzar went out of his mind and ate grass like an animal, it was a punishment from God. I do not know of a time when God has made his children sound like animals as a form of praise to Him or as a blessing to them.
On the other hand, is laughing or weeping in the Spirit legitimate or not? I would think so, but there is no sin in testing the spirit. But we need to be very careful not to label something demonic just because we find the behavior uncomfortable or non-Western. We are in the Last Days; we should expect some unusual things during these times. However, the world labels many things as from God when, in fact, they aren’t.
People have reported seeing items materialized seemingly out of thin air by Gurus. Sometimes just plain man can, by a touch, do unusual things, even heal. Satan is at work. The Holy Spirit is at work.
It may not be of God when people are healed. It may not be of God when people foretell an event that happens. It may not be of God when people speak in tongues. Then, again, it may be. We mustn’t be too quick to judge either way!
We must test all things and prove them as sound or not. We need to find the source: from man, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Darkness. As we seek answers, the issue should be finding the truth, not defending our doctrinal position.
The Holy Spirit: The Relationship
Paul talked about the “fellowship of the Spirit.” I have often overlooked the significance of such a phrase in the Epistles, but it means just what it says. We can have a relationship with the Holy Spirit as a person just as we do with Christ and with the Heavenly Father.
Jesus said, “It is for your own good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you . . .” (John 16:7-10 NIV).
I have begun to use the phrase ‘walking in partnership with the Holy Spirit’ because I think that is a better way of looking on our relationship with him. I realize that we are told to submit to the Holy Spirit but we should not talk about him as conquering and overcoming.
He was not sent to break our wills. Why would God create us with wills so that we could choose what actions to take and then force us? And then hold us responsible for our actions! The Holy Spirit is a willing partner who wants to help us, not an enemy to be feared.
The Holy Spirit: The Test
We counseled a couple in the Middle East who had sold all they had and gone to ___ to serve the Lord. When they arrived they found that the local church neither expected them nor wanted them!
The first thing that I asked was: “Why did you feel this was the right action to take when you began to sell your house, etc.?” Their answer, “It seemed that God was telling us to do this.” I asked another question, really the most important one, “When you felt led by the Spirit to do this did you receive any outside confirmation that this was indeed from God?” Their answer, “We didn’t think it was necessary.”
There are things to consider when we are not sure what power is at work as we make decisions. It is especially important to test the spirit whenever someone gives us a ‘word of the Lord.’ How foolish and naive to accept any ‘word of the Lord’ just because another person claims he or she is speaking under the Spirit’s power! Test the spirit!
- Are their words consistent with God’s character?
- Are their words consistent with God’s Word?
- If in doubt of the person giving the message ask them if they accept that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, the incarnate son of God.
- The message should be one of hope and life; it should draw us closer to God, uplift or create the grounds for repentance.
I know one couple who have closely followed all that any one gave them of ‘words of the Lord’ only to be find time and time again that obedience led to disappointment and failure. I question that God has been at work. Rather Satan has been able to use God’s children to mislead and stop an otherwise fruitful ministry!
An unmarried couple who were living in sin had a prophesy that they would work together for God’s glory as man and wife—yet the Holy Spirit did not expose and convict them of their sin! (Nor was this man a true prophet.) Sorry, wonderful as such words sound, they didn’t come from God but from man’s attempt to please or impress, or from Satan.
If the message only tears down, brings despair, leads to death, destruction or leads further from the Kingdom of God then question it!
Copyright 2000 Richard D Smith