The Truth About The Spirit

There is much talk about the Holy Spirit in Christian circles today. Some have called this century "The Age of the Holy Spirit." During the 20th century many Pentecostal churches were born and flourished. These emphasized that the "baptism of the Spirit" was a second experience after conversion in which the Holy Spirit came upon one in power and this was evidenced by one's speaking in "tongues" (glossolalia Greek). Most of their churches were quite conservative in dress and morals. This movement has spread throughout the world and their churches have proliferated.

Since World War II the so-called "charismatic movement" has exploded. This movement has emphasized the resurgence of sign gifts such as prophecy and tongues and in some cases "signs and wonders," especially in the Vineyard Churches begun by John Wimber. Some of this movement is found in certain of the old line churches but most often it occurs in independent churches led by a charismatic preacher. Some of these churches are more conservative, while others are quite extreme. Some claim that in their ecstasy "holy anointing oil" appears on their hands. Others fall down in fits of hysterical laughter,
"holy laughter." Others bark like dogs and run around on all fours. Many claim to be "slain by the Spirit" and fall on the floor.

So what is one to make of all these confusing currents? Are all of these manifestations of God? How can one determine what is true and what is false? The only recourse the believer has is to check things out by the Word of God. When Paul preached in Berea people received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11 NKJ). Isaiah in his day cried, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Is. 8:20). God's people need to be critical in a good sense and to
evaluate teaching in the light of God's Word. Experience is too subjective to be a true guide in spiritual matters. We need an objective standard like the Bible itself as a straight edge to test the teaching we hear.

What does the Bible teach about the "baptism of the Spirit?" John promised that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:11). Later Jesus told His disciples, "I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper that He may abide with you forever." After His resurrection He told them, "For John truly baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). On the day of Pentecost this baptism in the Spirit took place and the disciples all spoke in foreign languages, glorifying God. The crowds gathered and were amazed. Peter
preached a powerful message and about 3,000 turned to Christ (Acts 2).

Peter promised his audience that if they repented and turned to Christ they too would receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Since Pentecost to receive Christ is also to receive the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence that tongues of fire came down on the 3,000 or that they spoke in foreign languages, but they did receive the Holy Spirit that day. Later Paul states strongly, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom. 8:9). To be a Christian is to have the Holy Spirit.

To the Corinthian church Paul writes, "For by (in) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and were all made to drink into one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:13). Earlier he had called
some of the believers "carnal" (3:1), but here he affirms that all Christians have received the baptism in the Spirit. The Scripture urges believers to be "filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18) and not to "grieve" (Eph. 4:30) nor "quench the Spirit" (I Thess. 5:19). But never does Scripture urge believers since Pentecost to seek the baptism of the Spirit. All believers have been baptized in the Holy Spirit as John predicted Jesus would do. Our bodies have become temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). Now we are to give these bodies over to God to glorify Him (Rom. 12:1-2).

John in his later years urges believers: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I. Jn. 4:1). The devil constantly wants to sow confusion and false doctrine is a favorite strategy of his. Paul warns that Satan goes about as "an angel of light" (II Cor. 11:14) and it is
possible for believers to be confused by him (Gal. 3:1). All of these teachings about the Holy Spirit need to stand the test of the Word of God.

Many will say, "Is not God able to do today what He did in the first century?" Of course, God is able but in His wisdom He does not work in every age the same way. In O.T. days a few prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, worked miracles. But most were preaching prophets who did no miracles. John the Baptizer did "no sign," no miracle (Jn. 10:41), but Jesus said there was no one born who was greater than he (Mt. 11:11). The reality is that since the passing on of the apostles there has not been a display of miracles such as Jesus and His disciples performed. Those miracles were a special validation of the message given by God (Heb. 2:3-4). The apostles had special gifts and performed "the signs of an apostle" (II Cor. 12:12). No faith healers today heal all who come to them, but Jesus did. To pray for healing is Scriptural (James 5:14-15) but we must pray in the will of God, realizing that He may not choose to heal.

The only description of "tongues" is found in Acts 2 and they were foreign languages which had not been learned by the speaker. This was a sign, a miracle, to the unbelieving (I Cor. 14:22). The tongues movement of today has been analyzed by linguists and these are not languages but are nonsense syllables strung together to simulate a language. The messages cannot be interpreted because there is no language involved. If anyone professes to interpret, he is simply making up a message. People speaking in tongues today have an emotional experience which may feel good but it is not the gift of
languages found in Acts 2.

What about prophets? The church is described as built on "the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20). A foundation is laid once in a building. These men laid a foundation of teaching and example which is recorded in the New Testament and is a guide for the church today. There are no predictive prophets at present such as marked the first century. The church has preachers today, some of whom have a prophetic type ministry, pointing out sin and calling men and women to repentance. But beware of men and women who assert they have a prophecy from God and claim it has authority like Scripture. Be skeptical of some who claim to predict the future. In O.T. days when such predictions proved false the prophet was to be stoned (Dt. 18:20).

Church meetings, according to Scripture, are to be orderly, with one person speaking at a time so that all can hear (I Cor. 14:30-31). Men are to take leadership (I Cor. 14:34); all things are to be done for spiritual edification with opportunity for various believers to take part (I Cor. 14:26). These are commandments of the Lord (I Cor. 14:37). "Let all things be done decently and in order" (I Cor. 14:40). "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (I Cor. 14:33).

In this day of religious confusion it behooves the Christian to be intelligent in the Scriptures and to test all of these ideas by the Word of God. Let the believer then rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit. By turning away from sin let him not grieve the Spirit but be filled with the Spirit daily. This will accompany the Christian's being filled with the Word of God (Col. 3:16). One should not quench the prompting of the Spirit in his life but allow God to minister to the needs of others through him. By allowing the fruit of the Holy Spirit to ripen in his life (Gal. 5:22-23) he will become a loving, godly Christian. And to those who may be confused in their doctrine but do love the Lord, one must be compassionate and loving.  All of us must confess our knowledge at present is incomplete (I Cor. 13:9). Let us seek to help one another along in our knowledge of God and of His Word (Col. 1:28).

Donald L. Norbie
March 26, 1997