A Perspective on the Holy Spirit
by Ed Vasicek
The Holy Spirit: who or what is it or he? Do we believe in the baptism of the Spirit? Spiritual gifts? How can we sort out the many contradictory teachings about the Spirit? Indeed, the teachings proclaimed over television, radio, and from pulpits include an absolute mess of tangled opinions, solid and dubious interpretation, with emotional experiences tossed in for decor. What do I think about it?
Let's start with a few key verses from John 16:13-14: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Note the following: The Holy Spirit is a "he," not an "it." Like God the Father and God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is a person. He feels (he can be grieved); he thinks (he knows and searches); and he determines (he makes decisions in distributing gifts). He is every bit as much a person as the Son of God.
We believe all true believers have been baptized by (with/in) the Holy Spirit. It is not possible to be saved and not have the Holy Spirit in us. Note two key verses:
1 Corinthians 12:13 "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."
Romans 8:9 "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."
So if you belong to Christ, you have been baptized by and possess the Holy Spirit. When people of charismatic persuasion ask you if you have been "baptized by the Holy Spirit," they usually mean, "Have you spoken in tongues?" My answer is, "I believe that all true believers have been baptized by the Spirit, but I think that it is the fruit of the Spirit, not speaking in tongues, that demonstrates His presence." This usually results in the expression of disappointment, "Oh."
Whereas all believers are baptized by the Spirit, we are only sometimes "filled with the Spirit." We are filled with the Spirit to the degree that we allow the "word of Christ to dwell richly in us." Compare Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:18-19. The term "filling" is a figure of speech: The Holy Spirit is not a liquid, but a person. To be "filled" with the Holy Spirit means to be fully controlled by him.
A lot of times the confusion stems from trying to impose the occurrences found in the Book of Acts on today's scene. The Book of Acts records what did happen in the early church, not what must always be happening. Much of Acts is transitional: from Israel to the Jewish church, from the Jewish church to a predominantly Gentile church.
Do not put God in a box by saying he must do today what he did then. He may do so. But then again, he may not. He may even give spiritual gifts to today's church he never gave to first century believers. He is sovereign. Personally, I do not think most of what we see in the Charismatic movement (at least in the USA) is the real thing. Am I saying God cannot give gifts of foreign languages? No, I just don't think that genuine tongues are common today, and that most of what are labeled "tongues" are merely psychologically induced utterances. There is something miraculous about speaking a genuine language you have never studied; there is nothing miraculous about speaking in ecstatic utterances (many non-Christian religions practice the same). But it feels miraculous, and that's its selling point.
If we are to keep on top of these and other issues, we need to go back to the Word. But the Bible must be studied carefully with our assumptions set before us. Whatever we believe about the Holy Spirit needs to be grounded in the Word, objectively interpreted. If we have our agendas, we'll find what we're looking for.
How important is it to understand the Holy Spirit? According to the verses we began with, John 16:13-14, he ministers to us by focusing our attention on Christ. So if we are Holy Spirit-oriented, we will be Christ-oriented. At the same time, we need to understand who the Holy Spirit is, to seek to constantly be filled with him, and to let him use us. So how important is it to understand him? Very important!
Being Filled with the Holy Spirit
Francis Schaeffer once said that if the Holy Spirit were removed from the Church, many of us would not know the difference. I do not know if Schaeffer was right, but I am convinced that a lot of what is credited to the Holy Spirit finds its source in the human spirit.
Nothing evidences the Holy Spirit's presence more than his fruit. Note Galatians 5:22-25: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
When the Holy Spirit is active, he lives up to his name—he makes us more holy! Yet there is a lot of confusion between adrenalin and the Holy Spirit's influence in our day.
If a church is characterized by folks who are walking by the Spirit, they will show it in some very simple ways. They will stay married, get along well with others, be approachable, dependable, consistent, kind and forbearing. When people claim a variety of spiritual "mountain top" experiences, but go from spouse to spouse, church to church, and are not respected by those who know them, they may have had spiritual experiences, but not Holy spiritual experiences! The human spirit, especially fueled by ego (even apart from evil spirits), can produce many such "experiences."
How can we get "the real thing?" Note the following principle: Spiritual maturity comes from walking in the Spirit over time. We walk in the Spirit by being frequently filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is put in contrast with becoming drunk with wine (Ephesians 5:18); therefore, to be filled with the Spirit means to be influenced or controlled by the Spirit. But how?
First of all, we need to be saved. Although the Holy Spirit can even come upon the lost if he so chooses, this is not his norm. Besides, why would someone want to be filled with the Spirit if God is not number one in his or her life anyway?
Second, you need to dedicate yourself to serve Christ (Romans 12:1). You must want God to use you. You must be willing to be made willing. If you are not interested in yielding to God, the Spirit's filling is not for you. You must be teachable, eager for God to work with you.
Third, you must confess known sin (I John 1:9). When we sin, we grieve the Spirit and quench (stifle) Him. We can reopen our lives to him by confessing our sins and being cleansed. This should become a habit.
Fourth, and this is key, we must set our mind upon the things of the Spirit. Note the parallel between the two following passages:
Ephesians 5:18-20 "..be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Colossians 3:16-17 "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Please note that the main difference between these verses are the terms "be filled with the Spirit" in Ephesians, which is replaced by "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" in Colossians. In other words, in the second passage the cause, "Let the word of Christ dwell richly" is put for the result, "being filled with the Spirit."
The secret, friends, is in the mind and what the mind dwells upon. Another verse, Romans 8:5, makes this even more clear: "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires."
What we set our mind upon determines what we are filled with, or, in the case of the Holy Spirit, who we are filled with. Although the Holy Spirit does work in mysterious ways, his filling is not that difficult to understand. To be filled, we must choose to deal with sin as it occurs and to spend time reflecting on the things of the Spirit. We must want him to control us. We must also pay the price by taking advantage of the means to his filling. Reflection upon the Word of God coupled with a willing heart is probably the single most important key to the Spirit's filling. Other important means God uses include prayer, fellowship, praise, church participation, service, and Body life in general.
If you're looking for feelings, you will rarely experience the Holy Spirit's filling. If you want to know him, if you are hungering for the Word which reveals him, and if you want him to control you, you have probably been filled with the Spirit many times. To the degree we nurture ourselves with teachable hearts in the things of God, to that degree we are filled.
You may have concluded this already, but "being filled with the Holy Spirit" is one of many terms for the same concept. The battleground is consistently the mind. Romans 12:1-2 puts it this way: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Are you pursuing the things of the Spirit? Determine to regularly set your mind on the things of the Spirit!