Entering into a series like this is a daunting task because we are talking about God as if we can somehow fully grasp His nature and workings among men. It is challenging because the first question that I face as a teacher is what are my credentials to cover a subject like the leadership of the Holy Spirit? Anytime that a preacher or teacher talks on the topic of the Spirit of God it should make them pause to reflect on the serious nature of the material being presented. I wanted to address this at the onset and make a promise that all of the thoughts that we will share throughout this season on this subject will come directly from the word of God. I will not treat this study in a haphazard way. There will be pieces of this material where as students we are forced to say that we simply do not know how the Holy Spirit works. What has been revealed, we will share in our study.
The apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome in Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”. Therefore if we want to be recognized by God as His children, the Holy Spirit must have a leadership role in our lives. This makes the subject a highly important matter that we need to grasp and actively pursue each day.
The first task before us is to identify the Holy Spirit. In some translations of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost and instead of addressing Him in personal pronouns; He is called “it”. Ghosts conjure up an image that really doesn’t capture the idea of God and is quite misleading. To address the Holy Spirit in an impersonal manner is to downplay His person-hood and personal roles as a part of the Godhead. Let us be clear that the Holy Spirit is God. Whether we are referring to God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, the Bible in plain words tells us, “God is Spirit…” (John 4:24). Any being that exists in the spiritual realm is in spirit form. When we consider who God is, the difficulty for us in this finite physical world is being able to comprehend that God is Spirit and therefore has a spiritual nature. So while we might sit and debate how God can be three persons in one, the only reason that we question this point is due to the fact that we struggle with the idea of how a spirit being works. God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, which means that he is everywhere present, all knowing and all powerful. Because we have no experience like this from a human perspective, we will always be forced to stop and ponder the nature of God and be found wanting more details.
Let me see if I can share what has helped me to grasp the idea of God as a Spirit. God is referred to as Father because He is the Creator of all (Gen 1:1). He is our Father because our origin goes back to Him forming and fashioning us into His image and likeness in creation. Prior to our existence, God was and is Spirit. When man sinned against God, He unfolded His plan to save sinners. When God decided to send a Savior to the world in Christ, how did He accomplish that? The Spirit of God visited Mary and caused her to be with child and she eventually gave birth to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. So who was the Father of Jesus? Our immediate response is God the Father. That is correct! More specifically, since God is Spirit and the Holy Spirit is the one that blessed Mary to be the mother of the Lord, we could say that the Holy Spirit is the Father of Jesus. That is also correct, because God is Spirit. Do you see where this is going? When Jesus was on the earth, He was full of the Holy Spirit without measure and was the Son of God, but also a man. He died on the cross for the sins of the world and redeems those that would come to Him in trusting faith. When Jesus left this world by ascending on high to be enthroned at the right hand of God, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to believers. This same Spirit is the Spirit of God, or since God is Spirit, God was coming to help us carry on the ministry that He set in motion in the church. This means that the Spirit of God, or God who is Spirit, is seeking to lead us as members of the Lord’s church today. Perhaps this little interlude of my explanation of the Spirit of God has only created more questions for you. To this end we will spend our time in this series trying to discover the rich truths behind the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives today.
There are many views about how the Holy Spirit leads Christians today. We will highlight three of the most popular or widely held positions in this episode.
The first of these views is that the Holy Spirit only leads us through the written word of God. This position states that once the written word was completed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that it is the sole means through which the Spirit of God leads us. Generally this view can be summarized by saying that the Holy Spirit leads us through the word of God and not separate and apart from the word of God. This view emphasizes that since the word of God is from the Spirit of God that it is fully adequate to give us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Those who take this position will also point out that the word of God is able to equip us for every good work and that we need nothing else to help us on our journey towards our eternal home. This view also states that there is no more work for the Holy Spirit to do personally. In other words, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword and it alone can accomplish all the work that God the Spirit intends to do among His people today.
A second take on this subject is that the Holy Spirit is God’s active force and not actually a person in the Godhead. Those who take this angle will likely refer to the spirit in an impersonal way because it would not be a part of the triune God, but just a power emanating from God. When the Spirit is referenced, the understanding is that the Spirit of God the Father is being sent forth from Him to accomplish a work. Instead of the child of God being directly led by the person of the Holy Spirit, this view states that they are instead given a spirit of holiness (holy spirit) from God. His power or force is moving. What is meant here is that the spirit of the man is made holy (sanctified) and this renewed spirit directs the choices that the child of God would make moving forward. Therefore the spirit (power/force) of God the Father is the cause of the changes that are seen in the child of God.
A third view of the Holy Spirit leading the child of God focuses on the miraculous or supernatural. This position states that the Holy Spirit of God leads the child of God by providing revelation, giving spiritual gifts, and doing miraculous works through them. This view has proponents that believe that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the child of God wholly apart from any diligence on the part of the believer. In this camp you will find those who claim to speak in tongues, receive divine revelation or a word from the Lord and in some circles even performing miracle services. Some who hold to this perspective believe that this move of the Spirit is still very active today, while others believe that these works of the Spirit ended near the close of the apostolic age. The latter take on this particular view is often referred to as the cessation of gifts. Paul made it clear that at some point where there are tongues, prophecy and other works of the Spirit, that these would cease. While many believe that this cessation occurred near the end of the 1st century, there are others that remain convicted that the Holy Spirit still performs all of these works today.
There are certainly other variations of the views about the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but some form of the ones that we have presented here should suffice to cover the mainline teachings on this subject. Where we need to exercise extreme caution is with the warning that Paul gives to the Christians at Thessalonica, in I Thessalonians 5:19,
“Do not quench the Spirit”.
To quench the Spirit is to extinguish any spiritual work that is done through the Holy Spirit. This error borders on a violation of the teachings of Jesus about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, where we ascribe a work of the Spirit to evil, happenstance/chance or merely luck. As we study together we will make sure to take the biblical view instead of trying to fit any man-made position into the word of God.
We live in a world where religious people acknowledge that we need to be led by the Spirit. To deny this would be to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Scripture. When interpretation is applied, on one end of the spectrum, many create false notions that limit the work of the Holy Spirit, while on the other end many claim a divine unction from the Spirit in error that prompts them to credit Him with work that the Bible plainly teaches has ceased. To deny the work of the Holy Spirit is one sin, but to testify that the Holy Spirit has done something that He did not do, would also be a sinful practice. We need to get away from radically choosing sides with the religions of today, and instead go back to the Holy Spirit inspired writings in the Bible and take a stand on the truth.
There are multitudes of people that speak of being slain in the Spirit or falling under the power of the Holy Spirit. These proponents literally fall to the ground and their bodies shake, roll and convulse. We won’t spend much time here because our interests are in what the Bible says about this matter. The truth is, there is not one occurrence of people being forced to fall or shake under the power of the Spirit. While it is true that the Holy Spirit’s power did fall upon people, the representation of the Spirit’s power that exists in the world today is not what you can read about in the New Testament church. When the power of the Holy Spirit moved among early Christians, the results were never chaos or confusion but were for the purpose of edification and spiritual growth for God’s people. Watch some of the mayhem that gets credited to a move of the Holy Spirit today and see if you can find a biblical example of such occurrences. I challenge you to find it. I assure you that it is not in the 66 books of the Bible.
Some might mention in rebuttal that the Spirit did cause supernatural phenomena that seem to take over control of the natural abilities of those that His power fell upon. For example, there were many gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. This is a highly controversial gift of the Spirit for a number of reasons. First, there are some religious groups that make speaking in tongues a second act of grace. This means that once you decide to believe in Jesus, you aren’t actually saved until you are able to perform this specific gift. The truth is that Paul made it clear that not all would be able to speak in tongues. While he wished that everyone could, it is obvious that not all Christians in the early church were able to use this gift. Secondly, the Bible also makes it clear that tongue speaking is a gift where men who had not known or learned a specific language to communicate the gospel are granted the ability to speak fluently to the hearers in their native tongue. This is evident from the first encounter with tongue speaking in Acts 2. The major difference from tongue speaking in the early church in comparison with this practice today, is that the language is completely unintelligible unless someone who is also gifted by the Holy Spirit is present to translate or interpret. For the most part, those that speak in tongues, claim to speak in an angelic language (tongue) and in this case they are only speaking to God. Regardless, Paul made it clear that he would prefer to speak a few words that were able to be understood than to speak in tongues and be misunderstood. Not one soul is edified when we produce unintelligible sounds. Yet if you listen closely to these efforts to recreate this gift, most of the words or sounds uttered are nothing more than random strands of guttural noises or broken phrases and sounds strung together and attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the apostle Paul state that this gift of tongues would cease once its purpose was fulfilled, he also stated that the gift should not be used if there is no interpreter to give the meaning. There were also instructions for each one gifted to speak in turn so that the whole church could be edified. If you monitor the current mainstream practice of what is dubbed the gift of tongues, you will find whole congregations swept up into a state of emotionalism rattling off gibberish over the top of one another with no effort to interpret and teach what each one has received. No one is edified beyond being overcome together by a man-made hype that in no way reflects how this gift was intended to be used in its original context. Our God is not a God of confusion, and this modern effort to demonstrate tongue speaking is complete chaos. The original purpose of this gift was to help spread the gospel in the infancy of the church, before the will of God for the Lord’s church was fully revealed, written down and bound in what we now hold in our hands as the Bible. Now that this revelation is complete, this gift is no longer necessary or applicable. Before I am deemed guilty of quenching the Spirit, consider that the Spirit revealed that any new teaching that goes beyond what has been revealed is to be rejected. Any teaching that lacks the whole counsel of God is error. Any word that merely echoes the words of the Bible is of no value, for we already have this testimony of God in the written word. If we believe the word of God is the revelation of God, why is there so many that continue to teach that we need tongue speaking today? The Bible has been translated into most of the languages that exist in the world today and for the remaining peoples that do not have a Bible in their native tongue, we have translators (interpreters) that can give the message to those willing to hear it.
The gift of prophecy is also touted by many denominations today. There are claims of modern day prophets and prophetesses that receive new revelations from God on a regular basis. The same reasoning from our brief mention of the gift of tongues also allows us to consider this as error. If the word that one claims to receive from the Holy Spirit says more than the Bible reveals, it is to be condemned. If the revelation says less than what the Bible teaches, it falls short and is sinful to accept. If the prophecy only says exactly what the Scriptures state, then it is not prophetic in nature, but already a revelation from God. This movement has led many preachers and teachers who claim the gift of prophecy to make statements like, “God just told me to tell you… (you fill in the blank).” Unless they are preaching book, chapter and verse (getting their message from the word of God), they are to be rejected and their message has no authority.
In the same vein, we have also heard of professing miracle workers that claim to be anointed by the Holy Spirit to perform works of healing. I am not denying that a prayer offered in faith is still powerful to seek healing from the Lord. But the power is not in the man who prays but in the God to whom he prays. This method of seeking divine healing is not what I am addressing. I am speaking of those who claim to have the ability to lay hands on someone and physically heal them. Crusades are held and thousands of hopeful people flock to these faith healers to receive their miracle. We find that all of these so called miracle workers fall flat when it comes to comparing their fraudulent efforts with the miracles of the Bible. First, Jesus didn’t perform miracles for just anyone. He chose specific moments to perform these acts and always with one goal in mind. In each case the miracles performed were to give glory to God and to prove that He was from God. This was also true of the miracles performed by His apostles. The miracles of Jesus or his gifted apostles, ranged from everything from changing water to wine to raising the dead. The modern day miracles that you hear others claiming to do by the power of the Spirit are things that could be questionable or easy to recreate. If I told you that I healed someone of an inner ear infection, you might say that there is no proof. There are no visible signs externally that prove that this miracle occurred. When Peter cut off the ear of the soldier Malchus, Jesus took the severed body part and restored it to the side of his face. That’s a miracle! Jesus restored withered hands and made them whole instantly, he made the lame from birth to walk again, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the demon possessed are freed and there was no way you could question whether a notable miracle had occurred. Today, when a wheelchair bound boy is pushed onto the stage of a miracle service and when he is told to stand up, he rises and walks, we immediately assume that he couldn’t walk prior to the event. Most of the time, those healed still appear to be impaired as if God only came through on half of a healing. Yet in the Bible there were people that were clearly unable to stand and their muscles had atrophied for decades and they were being raised up to walk, leap and praise God for their healing. Those professing the gift of healing and claiming to perform miracles today are often guilty of seeking glory for themselves. This is evidenced by the large collections taken up in these services to initiate a move of the Spirit of God. Ultimately, if you examine the core of these organizations, the dollar signs are a driving factor in their efforts. In most cases where someone attends a healing service and doesn’t receive their miracle, the excuse provided is that they somehow didn’t have enough faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. The word of God makes it clear that the time for these miracles has ceased and the purpose for miraculous works has been fulfilled. These types of works were used to confirm that a messenger was from God according to Mark 16:20, “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” There are some today who are not satisfied with the miracles that are recorded in the New Testament to produce faith. They read into all of the biblical texts that address the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit and seek the same signs and wonders today that were performed in the infancy of the church. To overlook the context of the passages where these gifts are discussed and without realizing that they served a specific purpose within a limited window of time, opens the door for many who claim to have and use these divine abilities today. We should steer clear of so call faith healers and rather put our needs to prayer while faithfully addressing the Great Physician for our healing.
This leads us to our next modern trend that is attributed to the Holy Spirit. There are some that seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This occurred only a few times in the New Testament and for specific reasons, yet some see the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a standard outpouring of the Spirit that is given to all believers. Some have gone so far to ask for the baptism of fire, not realizing that the baptism of fire is a direct reference to the fiery judgment of the Lord on the wicked. The misunderstanding comes from the earliest outpouring of the Holy Spirit when tongues were first issued to the apostles and the Bible says that, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” Some equate the fire here with the baptism of fire, but that is a misapplication of the biblical teaching. John the Baptist taught that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. These are two separate baptisms of Jesus. The first was the outpouring of the Spirit and the other was the fiery wrath to come which He would carry out according to the will of God the Father. Among those in the charismatic movement, there is much talk about the fire of heaven falling on them. Anyone can read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and they would never desire this again. I will add here that even what is considered the Spirit’s fire in modern denominations, can be more accurately referred to as false fire. What generally is called a move of the Spirit is the moving of the emotions of a crowd to try and stir a frenzy where people jump, run, laugh, shout, dance, fall on the floor, convulse, and utter gibberish uncontrollably that is dubbed as speaking in tongues. Show me one example in the Bible where any of this behavior occurred in a New Testament church and I will recant. Until then we must be certain that our beliefs are in line with the revealed will of God as recorded in the Bible.
Now let us review that I started this episode by saying that we should not quench the Spirit based on the teachings of the apostle Paul. As I have presented these initial thoughts on being led by the Spirit of God it might appear that all I have done is negated every work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you feel that I have built the case for those that hold the view on the cessation of the work of the Holy Spirit. That is not my goal or aim. Our aim was to point out what exactly the Bible teaches is the current work of the Holy Spirit in leading Christians. I do believe that the Holy Spirit has several specific works that the Bible claims he performs in our lives to provide leadership for us. Our goal we be to direct the remainder of our thoughts to learning how the Holy Spirit of God leads and directs us today.
Since there are so many erroneous practices in the religious world that are attributed to the Holy Spirit, the response among conservative Christians has been to go to the opposite extreme to stand against the possibility that the Holy Spirit does any work in or lives. While this is never verbalized, the mentality of many Christians is that they don’t want to be like the fake healers, the phonies and those that do and say funny things in the name of the Holy Spirit. The conclusion is that they best way to avoid any of those movements is to avoid being Pentecostal or charismatic on every level and thereby shutting down any operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I have witnessed in my years as a minister among a very conservative movement in the churches of Christ. While some of my brethren hold a balanced view, it would appear to many that we don’t even believe in the Holy Spirit the way that we often address and welcome the Father and the Son into our lives, but wouldn’t for a moment consider how the Holy Spirit could be actively working to lead us.
There are some that think of the work of the Holy Spirit as something that only occurred in the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation. This thinking is faulty because the Holy Spirit has acted in all of revelation. From the second verse of the Bible we see the Spirit of God at work as He is hovering over the face of the waters in creation. In Genesis 1:2, we read, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Specifically, the Holy Spirit has been involved with mankind from the beginning. When man was created, God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). We are made up of body, soul and spirit. Paul said in I Thess. 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This breath that God breathed is said to have been symbolic of the Holy Spirit as man cannot be brought to life spiritually unless the Spirit of God gives that life. In John 6:63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Later in the same gospel in John 20:22, we see this connection between the breath of God and the Holy Spirit when Jesus , “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
The Hebrew word neshamah (breath) given to man is not the ruach (Spirit) yet the two work hand in hand to give us life. In Job 32:8, we read, “But it is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.” Then in Job 33:4, it is recorded, “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Let us turn our attention to Psalm 104:24-35, where we read, “O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. There the ships move along, [And] Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it. They all wait for You To give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather [it] up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground. Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works; He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD. Let sinners be consumed from the earth And let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!” If we focus on verse 30, we learn that where the Spirit dwells, there is life and renewal. No creation takes place unless the Spirit of the Lord is directly involved. God’s purpose from the beginning was to be personally involved in a relationship with His people in order to lead them into His eternal glory one day. This requires us to be holy as He is holy, so that we can be sanctified and God can dwell with us. In Leviticus 20:7-8, the Bible records, “'You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 'You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Then in Leviticus 26:11-12, we find these words, “Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. 'I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” This is the language of the first paradise in the Garden of Eden.
It was sin that separated us from God. It is the renewal of our spirits that causes the Lord to once again dwell with His people. Once sin entered the world, the perfect relationship between man and God was marred and since that time God has been seeking to dwell and walk among His people again just like He did in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve. Listen to Exodus 25:8, “"Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” Can you hear the Father’s desire to dwell with us again? Now hear the words of Exodus 40:34-38, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.” The Lord desired to be with His people and you can sense this from these passages. One more example should drive this point home. In I Kings 8:11, 27, 57-61, we read, “so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. ... "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! ... "May the LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers. "And may these words of mine, with which I have made supplication before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that He may maintain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, as each day requires, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else. "Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day." The image here is that both our desire and God’s desire is to have a purified relationship where we dwell together. We keep His commandments and He maintains His faithful love towards us.
We have so much more to cover in this series. In the next episode we will take time to expand on this idea of how the Lord wants to have a personal relationship with us in the lesson titled, "Holy Spirit With Us".