Jesus calls us to join Him in HIS
"Gifts" of God's Holy Spirit
for Christians Today
By Ray Downen
Christians in succeeding generations have thrilled to read of God´s power displayed in overwhelming visitations in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and onward during the first Christian century as the gospel spread into all the world. We also have witnessed widespread outbreaks of Neo-Pentecostal fervor, spanning national and denominational boundaries. Is God speaking again now to men and to His church as He did in the first century A.D.? Some say yes.
This study is designed to point to principles which may clarify for some what the Bible teaches about current activities of God´s Spirit. Three facts should be clear to all:
1) God is all-powerful. He is able to accomplish whatever He chooses to do.
2) During Jesus´ ministry, and at least through much of the first century A.D., He chose to work in miraculous outpourings of power.
3) His use of the Holy Spirit has always been to benefit all His people and to bring them into and keep them in ONE BODY.
So, we ask: Does God still perform miracles? Should Christians today be filled with God´s Spirit? Are men and women being baptized in the Spirit in our generation? Is God´s Spirit today helping save sinners and keeping them saved? If tongue-speaking as occurred on Pentecost and in Corinth in the first century is happening today, is this God at work?
Thoughtful answers to these questions are here presented for your consideration.
Note that the writer is part of a non-charismatic 19th-century reformation which can correctly be called the Stone-Campbell Movement to restore N.T. Christianity. We prefer to be called just Christians. Another acceptable name is Disciples of Christ. And some call us Campbellites. Our congregations most frequently identify themselves as being a Church of Christ or a Christian Church, with Christ´s Church as an alternate.
Few in this reformation are apt to over-emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, some of us seem not to have yet heard whether the Spirit was given. Churches of Christ/Christian churches generally strive for balance between unrestrained emotionalism and unemotional formalism in our public meetings.
Each congregation is free from outside control, with property owned by and personnel selected by the local members. We intend to avoid imposing any non-scriptural opinion or tradition on any brother as a test of fellowship. Naturally, then, our journals present widely varying doctrinal positions in their articles. Some neglect works of the Spirit. Others emphasize them. We are free to think for ourselves and do what the congregation thinks best on every matter!
In some journals published by heirs of the Stone-Campbell movement we have read the same expressions of witness to God´s miraculous working as in earlier years would have been seen only in Pentecostal journals.
Many join in testifying they´ve been seeing and hearing something happening in their lives, in their churches, and in their communities that´s different something they think may echo the thunder of God´s voice. Those of us who find such testimony confusing react in different ways, as could be expected.
Before we look to the Bible, let´s think together briefly about our brothers´ reaction to neo-Pentecostalism within our ranks. Confronted with miracle stories, some say: It´s a lie! That is, some say the testimonies are really stories made up by men anxious to be well thought of by others who would be impressed by such things. In a few cases, this may be a correct understanding. Yet, within this group of Christians at least, more will be distressed than impressed by reports of unusual works of a spiritual nature.
A Florida Christian Church preacher in 1975 published this testimony: ...the next morning, as I arose to begin a new day of praise and worship, I felt I should first pray aloud. As I did, I was acutely aware that I did not know what I was saying. Without stopping, I picked up my Bible and began reading while praying aloud. This is the way that the Lord showed me that When the spirit prays, the mind is unfruitful (or fallow).
What Did He Say?
Our brother testifies that he has joined the large group of contemporary Christians who have done what some call, talking in tongues. A tongue is a language. He says he believes the Lord caused him to do this. Hearing of this, some in this Stone-Campbell reformation will feel that the preacher´s testimony is false, that what he says happened didn´t really happen. Or some may suggest, It´s just his imagination.
Others will feel, and may say, that the brother had worked himself into an emotional state in which he imagined something that he only thinks really took place. The reader may agree with one or the other of these evaluations. It´s possible that an element of self-hypnosis may be involved. But at best it would be difficult to prove that this is entirely the case. For the selected example is an adult Christian leader who has long been exposed to God´s Word as it is preached in most of our congregations. He came to this new experience only after becoming thoroughly fed up with the sterility of Christian life as commonly seen in many congregations in this generation.
Now that you´ve heard his testimony, what do you think? Is my brother lying? Is he dreaming? Did GOD cause him to babble (I use this word in order to avoid the much longer phrases which would otherwise describe a situation where neither the speaker nor any hearer is expected to understand a clear message).
I don´t see how he can be lying! He knows, better than anyone else possibly could know, what he experienced. He reports that he was awake, therefore not dreaming. He says his experience was real.
He also reports that his experience is a reaction after many years of sterility of spiritual life. He felt that much that he needed to do as a professional servant of a modern Christian Church was NOT real spirituality, that all too often the church preferred to quench rather than accept the leading of God´s Spirit.
Our brother was looking for something genuine, something worthy of what Jesus paid for His church. Now he rejoices because something he feels is REAL happened to him. He wants to share his joy. Who can blame him?
He says he was praying aloud, but did not know what he was saying. Sometimes this experience is described as being the use of ecstatic, angelic, or praise language which is not intended to be understood by human hearers.
His picking up the Bible and reading while continuing to babble, and his referring to the experience as his mind being fallow surely indicates that neither he nor any human hearers would be expected to understand what was being said.
It might appear that our brother thinks that God wanted to talk to Himself through a human, and this one was available. After testifying about his experience, the preacher added, I am forever convinced that this praise language (babbling) is valid. I have continued to use it daily. Our brother may be mistaken, but I certainly don´t think he´s lying about what he thinks happened.
He says he, not knowing what he was doing, began babbling. He feels that this was praising GOD although he wasn´t sure what he was saying nor to whom it was said. He intends to keep on babbling, hoping thereby to please and praise Jehovah God.
Each of us will sympathize with his feeling about the need for Christian fellowship he reports was lacking in earlier days. We all yearn for genuineness and godliness in our association for Christ. We seek acceptance and friends to help us live for the Lord. Yet, often our congregational fellowship is characterized instead by criticism and dissension.
Do any of us fully exercise as God intends those abilities and gifts He gives us for our mutual good? His power is provided in order that we can strengthen each part of the body. It´s not for our private enjoyment. We ARE our brothers´ keepers!
We must obey God. God calls for each person to submit to His will. And we find that we have most power (because we´re relying on His power) when our self-will is most weak. We can´t read James´ epistle without feeling that we must both submit to God and also vigorously resist the devil. To let go of your will when you´re not very sure you´re turning it over to God is distressingly dangerous! Yet that´s what our preacher brother says he did. He didn´t know what he was doing and suddenly he found himself babbling!
Jesus says He will hold us responsible for every word we utter, which surely includes any babbling we do (Matthew 12:37). People do babble, but that´s no proof that God wants them to do so or is doing the babbling through them. Consider a different possibility.
The Devil Made Me Do It
Despite its comic use, this phrase is not just a joke. Not only has God performed miracles, but lying wonders have also occurred, and sometimes in His name! God gave Moses miraculous signs to convince Pharaoh to let God´s people go free. The first three signs found Egyptian magicians matching miracle for miracle what God did through Moses. By trickery? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Secular historians testify that before, during, and since the time of Bible-recorded tongue-speaking, practitioners of many religions have babbled to their gods, have foretold future events (sometimes accurately), and have healed the sick and cast out demons in the name of their deities. Such powers have been at least as prevalent among pagans as within the church of Christ.
Men and women who, so far as is known, have never heard of Jesus, with or without the help of drugs and/or hypnotic charms, have gone into trances, spoken in tongues (both as babbling and as speaking untaught languages), have healed sick persons, cast out demons, and have matched every miracle today being claimed by some Christians. How did they do it? By what power?
Christians say our miracles are caused by God´s power at work. Proud pagans point to their deities to explain their miracles. Are both right? Both may be wrong, or one may be right and the other wrong. How can we know?
How CAN We Know?
We need to search for truth in God´s Word, to see what He teaches concerning correct practice and power for today. Then, whatever we see in the Scripture, we should whole-heartedly practice. For, rather than by what any other person believed or taught, we will be judged by what our own conscience held to be right.
If you think it wrong to speak in tongues, for you it IS wrong, no matter what anyone else may do or think. And if in your own mind you are convinced that such conduct is pleasing to God, then surely you do well if you do it. God will not judge you by what your brother(s) thought, but by what YOU thought was right. We each should do what we think God wants us to do. If we´re to discuss the Holy Spirit and things of the Spirit, some definitions are in order.
The HOLY SPIRIT is the God-person whose ministry was to follow that of Jesus. As promised, He came in power upon the apostles on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He was very active in many ways during the days while the New Testament (Bible) books were being written.
GIFT is a general word showing that the object spoken of was donated to the receiver by another person or power. A gift was not found, developed, stolen, or purchased in order for the receiver to gain possession. All Christians were promised we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we were baptized. Only the apostles were promised baptism IN the Holy Spirit.
FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT means being controlled by the Spirit (of God). Some Christians sometimes were said to be filled with God´s Spirit. A common parallel is to describe a person as being filled with any strong feeling such as anger, joy, or grief which might cause the person´s action to be out of harmony with his or her usual responses.
BAPTISM, as used in the Bible and among informed Christians today, is an immersion, usually by plunging the person or object briefly into the material. In the Bible, Christian baptism is seen to be an immersion in water done in the name of Jesus (often with the words, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Jesus taught in Matthew 28:18-20). Figuratively, the word baptism is used to refer to Christ´s suffering (a baptism of suffering) on the cross, the Pentecostal outpouring (a baptism in the Spirit), and to speak of the deliverance of the Israelites through the Red Sea under the cloud (a baptism of God´s people leaving Egyptian slavery).
God sent John the Baptist to baptize Israelites (in water) in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
THERE ARE VARIED GIFTS OF GOD´S SPIRIT
On the day of Pentecost, God overwhelmed the apostles in His Spirit with accompanying signs of the sound of a great rushing wind and tongues of fire which were seen to sit upon each apostle. At this time the apostles were enabled to speak and be understood in many languages. They didn´t babble. They spoke their thoughts, which were understood by hearers who didn´t know their language.
Special Gifts of the Spirit -- The Bible also speaks of the apostles (having received the baptism in the Holy Spirit) being able by placing their hands on others, to transmit to them special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, tongue-speaking (speaking in languages not known by the speaker) accompanied or followed receipt of the Holy Spirit gift. In Acts 2, we learn from Peter that every sinner baptized in water for the remission of sins will receive also the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is the wonderful situation through His Spirit, God takes up residence in us! And that´s the gift of the Holy Spirit every Christian receives at baptism.
God´s Many & Varied GIFTS -- God´s gifts through His Spirit to His children are manifold. In addition to those named above, we all are
1) born of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:23),
2) born in/by one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13),
3) given fruit by the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25), and we may at some times even be
4) filled with God´s Spirit (Acts 4:31; 6:3; 7:55).
These are differing gifts and actions of God´s Holy Spirit. The apostles only (and later a representative group of Gentiles) received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The apostles were able to impart special gifts of the Spirit to some selected others. And Christians are promised that when we are baptized in water, God will give to each of us the indwelling presence of His Spiritthe general (common) gift of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism in the Spirit was promised only to the apostles (Acts 1:5). In Acts 2 we read of the apostles being baptized in the Spirit. In Acts 10 we see that God gave similar signs to help convince Peter and other Jewish Christians that it was God´s will that Gentiles also should be welcomed into God´s family.
There is no question that Holy Spirit gifts were from God on Pentecost and on many other occasions the Bible speaks of. Paul writes in chapters 12-14 of his first letter to the church of God in Corinth to some who had received (and were misusing) special gifts of the Spirit.
Open-minded readers who want to learn God´s truth about the Holy Spirit will please read these chapters (1 Corinthians 12-14) again before continuing in this study, and also refresh your memory about how the Spirit worked as revealed in the book of Acts. Following remarks are also based on much taught in 1st John.
In particular we here compare Ephesians 4:4 (There is one baptism ) with 1 Corinthians 12:13 (by/in one spirit we were all baptized into one body and made to drink of one spirit).
Paul says that for the ongoing church of God there IS only one baptism not two or more. Jesus commanded men to baptize their converts. Men can baptize in water but cannot baptize in the Holy Spirit. Yet Paul says that the baptism which brought us into the body of Christ (God´s church) is in some way performed by or through the Holy Spirit rather than by or through human hands.
So are there two Christian baptisms one to be performed by men, and the other by God? Note that the Spirit does not baptize in the Holy Spirit The Father and/or the Son perform Holy Spirit baptism. Men cannot do so. And the baptism Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 12 results in converts being made to drink of the Spirit.
Is this confusing? Perhaps our confusion will lessen if we realize a normal mammalian birth process includes a begetting and a period of growth (gestation), as well as the actual birth. The birth follows a begetting.
Peter says the Spirit is involved in the begetting a figurative way of saying that sinners are saved by first hearing the gospel story about a Savior who died in our place. The Spirit was assigned the work of keeping that story alive.
We can only obey the Word after we´ve heard it. We hear because someone tells it. They knew it because the Spirit inspired men to tell it long ago, and some to write it down. And perhaps God takes a hand in helping some of us listen to His good news!
BORN (BEGOTTEN) BY GOD´S SPIRIT
Jesus told Nicodemus that a new birth of water and spirit (John 3:3-5) is essential for salvation. It appears that every Christian has been born through action of God´s Spirit on his/her spirit, as well as in Christian baptism. The new birth, as did the first birth, includes two elements. The Spirit is active even before the actual birth.
It appears that each babe in Christ has been begotten by God´s Spirit through hearing and receiving the gospel message. Then that developing life is nurtured within the searching, thirsting sinner´s heart until faith and repentance culminates in a symbolic death to sin in, and a resurrection to new life from, the waters of Christian baptism. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 8 and in Matthew 13. Planted in good soil, the seed of the gospel story produces spiritual life.
Paul says he preached the gospel to Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:15) and thereby became their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 3:6). By the gospel Paul preached, the Spirit of God begot them into eternal life. Through His Spirit (and through the message of human evangelists) the seed of the gospel is planted and fertilized within our hearts. James says it this way, Submit to God and accept the word that He plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. (James 1:21).
Paul repeats this message about gospel seed in writing to Galatian Christians. He reminds that God had given to them His Spirit because they had heard and believed the gospel (Galatians 3:5). In faith that the gospel story is true, believers who repent and are baptized have been spiritually reborn. At our new birth we receive remission of sins and the gift of the indwelling Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Paul further explains, It is through faith that all of you are God´s sons in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ... (Galatians 3:26,27). The indwelling Spirit is promised to all who meekly receive (James 1:18,21) the implanted word, Christ´s gospel. That is, we who receive, believe and OBEY the gospel invitation.
In the NEW BIRTH, we are born OF the Spirit (and of water). Chapters 6-8 of Romans, and 1 Corinthians 12:13 help us understand how we are born IN one Spirit. The baptism in water is preceded by seed-planting which is helped by the Spirit.
GOD´S ONE SPIRIT
In the Corinthian passage you have read (chapters 12-14), Paul helps us see that the Spirit of the One God doesn´t create spiritual orphans. God uses men and women to help plant the seed by telling others about Jesus. He then uses others to complete the birth process by briefly burying in water those hearers who believe the gospel and turn away from sin.
This method of reproduction, like animal and human reproduction, is not of human origin or devising. It´s Jesus who made baptism in water part of His plan for the new birth of water and spirit.
Human birth normally occurs nine months after the seed is planted. The new birth may be much more swift than that. It sometimes takes much longer. But whether swift or slow, the new birth into Christ always is the result of God´s spirit touching and influencing a human spirit. The acts of begetting and birth are apt to be accompanied by extreme emotions.
Peter writes, Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for through the living and eternal word of God you have been born again (1 Peter 1:22,23).
Begotten of the Spirit through the implanted word. Born of water by human obedience in Christian baptism. This is the essential new birth of water and Spirit of which our Savior and Paul and Peter speak.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul writes that all Christians have been baptized into the one body (the Lord´s church) in/by one spirit. The baptism to which all Christians have submitted is the one Jesus spoke of in giving what we call the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Those who love Jesus are to tell others about Him, and baptize those who believe the message ALL who believe.
Hence, this action taken by order of our Savior, and with assistance from His Spirit, brings us into Christ and into unity! Everyone IN Christ has submitted to Christian baptism a burial in water because of repentance and faith in Jesus. This message of unity based on the shared experience (the common experience) of water baptism into Christ, is Paul´s message also in Ephesians 4:4-6.
Every sinner has come to Christ in the same way, and we were thereby brought into God´s assembly where the one Lord is the body´s one head. Loving and serving Jesus, because of HIM, we become ONE BODY.
The "By/In the Spirit" Phrase Is Used
In Philippians 1:27 this same phrase, in/by one spirit of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is used to modify, standing firmly for truth.
No one can say, Jesus is Lord, except in/by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
And in 12:13, For we were all baptized in/by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks
The Spirit doesn´t do for us the standing or the saying or the baptizing Paul speaks of. PEOPLE do these things. Paul says that we do it with the help of (by/in) God´s Spirit. Accepting God´s leadership causes us in unity of mind to stand, to speak, and to be baptized!
JESUS COMMANDED BAPTISM FOR
When Jesus commanded the practice of baptism, He was obviously speaking of an act one person could do for another. That´s baptism in water, of course.
God baptizes in the Spirit. People can´t do it. Only God can. And He did it to give special powers to the apostles. The baptism that unites Christians is the one which is common to us all. It´s baptism in water.
Some today claim to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Most Christians realize our baptismal experience was very unlike what came upon the apostles on the birthday of the church.
They were baptized to be seen to receive power. We are baptized to receive salvation and the indwelling Spirit. The one was unusual in the extreme. The other is our common experience.
Paul says the baptism we each have experienced should help us realize the unity that should exist among us as Christians. Since baptism is in/by ONE Spirit, we were all inducted into ONE body. We have every reason to seek to remain united!
Baptism is immersion. Christian baptism is the immersion in water of repentant believers in Jesus Christ. This is the ONE baptism, the unitive (uniting) baptism of which Paul speaks.
John the Baptist spoke of future baptisms in the Spirit and in fire, making clear that the fire spoken of was for eternal punishment (or destruction). Jesus did baptize in the Spirit and will baptize in fire. But the baptism spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is in water. It is promised that those who ARE baptized will then receive God´s gift of His indwelling Spirit.
God acts in creating new life within as we hear gospel truth, and God acts in the baptism which brings us fully into new life. We note that Paul says that baptism IS a burial (Romans 6) from which we rise to walk in new life. In Galatians 3:27, he further explains that we are baptized INTO Christ and at baptism put on Christ. He continually calls for us to live as Jesus did, because we have died to sin (in baptism) and risen into new life.
Galatians 5, 2nd Peter, and Romans 12 tell us more about the effect of allowing God to rule in our hearts. Jesus speaks of us remaining in the vine.
FRUIT OF GOD´S SPIRIT
If we do abide in the vine where the power of Jesus is present, the fruit produced will be fruit of the Spirit. This is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as part of us drinking of the Spirit... In Galatians 5:22-26 Paul describes what the fruit is like when we are influenced by God´s Spirit.
The good fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. Don´t you want that kind of fruit? Peter also urges us to seek such fruit by adding to our faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly love and love (2nd Peter 1:3-9).
Neither passage suggests that God will miraculously bestow these gifts on us. He gives us the Spirit, who in due time produces in us this desirable fruit. But Peter suggests this doesn´t come without effort on our part also mainly in submitting to God and seeking to work for and with Him.
Yet, John writes, But you have had the Holy Spirit poured out on you by Christ, and so all of you know the truth, and As long as His Spirit remains in you, you do not need anyone to teach you, for His Spirit teaches you about everything.
If John meant that every person hosting Christ´s Spirit (remember that ALL Christians receive the Spirit) would fully and perfectly understand Christian doctrine, how can we account for the dissension over doctrine from the first century until now?
Do only those possess the Spirit who understand all truth just as I do? Is knowledge of the Bible a special gift of the Spirit? No. Some choose, perhaps because of John´s words, to not study the Bible, supposing that they will be taught (without study) by the Spirit. If you´ve heard what some of these brothers teach, and if you´ve seen their conflicts, you´ll know they are NOT taught by a Spirit of unity who leads TO unity.
The unity God desires for His church will not be brought about by a miraculous gift of knowledge which enables all Christians to entirely agree on doctrine. It hasn´t. It won´t. We should not today expect miraculous wisdom and knowledge to be sent to us in place of our personally reading and studying the Bible.
Jude warns that God´s message was once for all delivered. And the writer of Hebrews admonishes us about our need to be attentive to the message of Jesus, for there´ll not be a new and different one sent by God. James invites us to seek God´s help when we want to know truth (James 1:5). Paul prayed for Ephesian Christians that God would give them (Ephesians 1:17,18) a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. And he wrote, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened... so they could see the revealed truth.
Solomon believed that by seeking wisdom from God, he could become wise. He believed that all other wisdom was vanity. Old-fashioned? Yes, but still true. Miraculous? Not, perhaps, in the sense that the gift of wisdom was in the day when John wrote.
But we are the losers if we today rely on human means only when we seek knowledge. God hears and answers prayer. We should faithfully, earnestly pray for His guidance and help whenever we face any decision or determination.
When we pray, we ask in confidence that God hears us and is able to provide for our need. But it is wrong to pray and then make no effort to meet the need we recognized. Just as lazy Christians are not miraculously made patient, loving, and unselfish (against their will), neither are we blessed with knowledge of God´s Word when we refuse or neglect to read and study it.
To prepare for a school exam, we study and memorize assigned material. The same laws of language and logic apply to the Bible as to any other written work. God can help us learn any lesson. We should not be hesitant to ask for His help whenever we need it!
The indwelling Spirit gives us a mind in harmony with Christ´s will for using and understanding the written word. But He doesn´t give us a substitute for the Word as He is revealed in the Bible.
The Spirit´s Gift to Us
What the Spirit provides Christians today is a motive and state of heart in which we can make determinations of doctrine, rather than a decree of knowledge apart from the Word.
We often wish that God would make decisions for us, then reveal them to us. How often each of us long for God´s light to guide us aright! We often even speak as if we thought He had particularly led us as He did lead His servants in earlier days.
But when we face the final consequences, do we actually believe that God infallibly made our decision for us, and authoritatively gave us directions apart from the Bible?
Why then do those instances of spiritual guidance sometimes, in the light of changing circumstances, need correction or amendment? Why does it EVER seem possible for us to change a teaching or decision we thought came from God?
THE BIBLE IS USED AND
SOMETIMES IS MISUSED
In order to learn truth, Christians should study the Bible as well as pray. And we should realize that not all who quote scripture prove truth by the quotation when he tempted Jesus, Satan quoted from the Bible with plausible-sounding verses.
Bible quotations can be used to mislead. Sly scholars (or fervent, faithful saints) may twist truth by misunderstanding or misapplying Bible passages. Those who hope to recognize truth need to keep their wits about them to handle aright the Word of Truth. No Christian, so long as a copy of the Bible in our language is available to us, needs to depend on someone else for Bible knowledge!
Through study and prayer, I can understand the Bible for myself in the same way I understand whatever I read. I should understand the Bible also if I will read and consider its meaning for myself. Should we call on God to do for us what we can do for ourselves?
Apples grow on apple trees. Oranges don´t. Or bananas. God has arranged that each tree and plant produce its own fruit rather than some other kind. As a normal result of walking in new life with Jesus, every true Christian will produce the fruit of the Spirit of Christ.
By God´s provident power, and by my selfless surrender, the spirit of love, joy, peace, etc. will gradually displace my human self-centered spirit with its evil fruit. It will drive out Satan´s seductive spirit. It´s called growing in Christ! A healthy, well-fed child grows to the limits set by God. Not by thinking about how to grow. It´s just natural. It happens. So does spiritual growth!
My friends and yours are apt to notice that we also seem to be filled with the Spirit of Christ. We will think as He thought, talk as He talked, and act as He acted. This should be the highest goal of every born-again Christian!
Filled With God´s Spirit
God´s spiritual gifts are not identical for every Christian. We who are not apostles should not expect to be reminded of each word that Jesus spoke in our hearing, for we weren´t there to hear Him (so how could we remember?).
Nor should we expect to be led into all truth, for that was His promise to the apostles, who were also told that THEY would do greater deeds than the miracles our Lord performed. Christ´s promise that His apostles would be baptized in the Spirit was fulfilled on that early Pentecost when God poured out the Spirit upon them so that they were then said to be filled with the Holy Spirit. On two other occasions, Peter is spoken of as being filled with the Spirit. Are we to understand that the Pentecostal experience was repeated two more times later? No.
But on two later occasions, Peter felt God´s presence with him so greatly that it could properly be said that he at those times also was filled with the presence of God and Christ.
As particular revelations came to John scenes described in the book of Revelation four times John mentions that he was in the Spirit differently than was normal for this man who walked daily in God´s presence. It appears that being filled with the Spirit or in the Spirit is not an everyday occurrence for even the most devout friends of God.
Apostles worked mighty miracles, having been filled with the Spirit. Others who were said to have been filled with the Spirit are not reported to have worked any miracles at all or shown any outward signs by which others might know of their experience.
Speaking of miracles, it´s a miracle that God would choose to live within any Christian! But that doesn´t mean that every Christian, or any Christian in later generations than the first, should be able to perform miracles.
In the first century, God sent miracles as a sign to men that Christ´s message was true, and that the apostolic witness to His resurrection was correct. Miracles accompanied God´s message that Gentiles were to be accepted in His church just as Jews had been for the first 10 years of church existence.
Yet men who came to Jesus seeking a sign to prove that He was from God were told that the only convincing sign they would see would be that of Jonah, by which Jesus was referring to the resurrection a very convincing sign indeed!
Many today are still inadvisably seeking some special new sign. Special gifts of the Spirit in the first century included tongue-speaking, interpretation of those tongues, healing, prophesying, teaching, serving and several others (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
Each such gift was furnished by God as it was needed by His church, at times and places of His own choosing. But the universal, unitive gift of the Spirit Peter promised and Paul described was for EVERY disciple who was baptized in water in Christ´s name. It´s for anyone, any time, any where who will surrender to Jesus. This baptism conveys no miraculous powers. It didn´t then. It doesn´t now.
Every CHRISTIAN has received the spiritual gift Peter promised in Acts 2:38, for we´ve been baptized in water. But even in those early days of the church, it was relatively few who received the SPECIAL gifts. These were given only as God saw the need and responded to it at His own discretion entirely.
Christ´s apostles possessed unique powers which Jesus had told them would come to them because of their baptism in the Spirit. They passed on certain powers to others by a laying on of their hands. This transfer of power produced effects which were seen outwardly as well, but did not enable the receivers to pass on special powers. They could USE the transmitted gifts, and did so to great effect.
Early prayer meetings make good examples for us. Because of his bold preaching, Peter was jailed. His friends got together to pray for Peter (Acts 4 and also 12). So they prayed that they also would be bold in telling others about Jesus!
Their witnessing was about what God had done through Jesus. Often, our witness is about how good we felt and how we say we´ve changed. We preach about ourselves instead of about Jesus! Should we?
Special Gifts Were SPECIAL
Special spiritual gifts are mentioned only a few times in Acts and then in the Corinthian letters from Paul. Yet some in our day want to make special spiritual gifts the center of their preaching and practice. We need to put our emphasis where the Lord wants it. We have no proof that He wants it on us instead of Him.
Those who claim Holy Spirit baptism today might well check into the apostolic proofs which accompanied true baptism in the Holy Spirit. Then, no doubt, they´ll want to duplicate those proofs so that all will know they have received from God what they claim they have received.
More of Christ and less of me in charge of my life is a proper Christian goal. We are servants (slaves) of the one we obey, according to Paul. He urges us, Don´t be controlled by wine, but be controlled by the Spirit. We each one do need to be fully controlled by (filled with) the Spirit of God. Unless we share apostolic powers, we do well to avoid claiming we have the same Holy Spirit baptism which empowered Christ´s apostles.
Even though we are united by water baptism to which we submitted by call of the Spirit, the gift of the Spirit all Christians share as a result of their water baptism is not baptism in the Spirit.
A great many Christians will go to Heaven without ever having spoken in tongues or performed any unusual spiritual exercises. But none of us will go to Heaven who have not loved God and served Him as best we were able. We are called to LOVE God and all His children. Those who choose to not love are not being led by God´s Spirit.
Some seek for showy gifts about which they can brag, and in which they can glory. What we really need is the fruit of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians 5. Our goal should be to love as God loves. He´ll give us all the power we need if we are aimed the right Way.
Rather than because of their appearance, family, residence, race, schooling, personality, or talents, God recognizes those who are His because of their love for Him, and their obedience to Him. We need to belong to Jesus, and be wholly submitted to Him.
Pray Without Ceasing
We are advised to pray without ceasing. This communication with God occurs while we work and play, while we experience every pleasure and duty of life. That´s not babbling where we DON´T know what we´re doing or saying. It´s with full knowledge of the great God with whom we´re in communication. It´s not certain that anyone today speaks in tongues by God´s direction.
During those days when special spiritual gifts were in place, Paul laid down rules for their public use (1 Corinthians 12-14). Should his rules be ignored by those who claim today to have those gifts?
Those able to speak in inspired tongues were not to do so in public just because they felt like doing so. They were to take turns, not more than two or three during any one gathering, and then only if an inspired interpreter was present who could let the others know what had been said. They were not to interrupt one another.
These rules outlined proper use of God´s gift at a time when He chose to speak directly to the church, perhaps because apostles could only be one place at a time and the N.T. writings were not yet widely available for the guidance of His people.
Tongue-Speaking Was A Language
Paul also suggests that mindless babbling is NOT a public Christian activity when he speaks of praying or singing with both spirit (heart) and mind, and of the possibility of omitting one or the other. He says he´ll use both, thank you!
So when he says not to forbid tongue-speaking, it´s not clear that he was speaking of mindless babbling. Tongue-speaking was apt to be the inspired use of an unlearned language instead of babbling.
The inspired writings report special spiritual gifts as a problem where they were present. Nothing is said about these special spiritual gifts being practiced in other congregations than Corinth in Greece. I don´t see that the Bible teaches that special spiritual gifts were to be practiced after the very first years of the church.
Some devout Christians today feel that their exercise of spiritual gifts is empowered by God. I dare not say they´re wrong. However, I see no reason why others should join them in things which are not obviously necessary or desirable for contemporary Christians.
We know we are called to testify (using known languages as best we can) to others about Jesus. We´re called to pray (in faith, and in languages we do know), and to remember Jesus by observance of the Lord´s Supper.
We´re taught many things as desirable and necessary, but we´re not in the Bible taught we should seek to babble unless in our private devotions, and I see good reason not to even there. Yet those who do so don´t need my permission to do what they think will please God!
John urges us to not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. That was good advice when he wrote it, and is still excellent advice. Each of us has days when we´re on the mountain top, when everything goes just as we want, when we feel very close to God indeed. At such times we say we were filled with God´s Spirit.
As Christians, we´re still filled with God´s Spirit when the other days come when nothing seems to go right and everything seems disappointing and distressing. There are times of doubt and depression. But God is with us every day. We need to hold His hand and be strengthened, and then we need to serve Him with all the power of His Spirit which indwells us. We´re on the winning side!
1 Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body ... and we were all given the one Spirit to drink NIV. Paul speaks of a SHARED experience, what EVERY Christian enjoyed not one claimed by only a select few. Jesus says that every person who hears and believes the gospel and turns away from sin is to be immersed in water. Peter promises each such baptized person will then receive the gift of the Spirit of God!
We who are in Christ were ALL baptized into Him. We were baptized into one body which is His church. We are called to maintain the unity of that one body. Even when we see matters of opinion differently, as we surely will, we are to love one another!
It´s by our shared love that others will recognize that we ARE in Christ. If we were begotten through the Word of God, if we are reborn of water and spirit, if we now seek to be filled with and possessed by Christ, we are sure to be lovers rather than fighters.
In his Corinthian discussion of works of the Spirit, Paul makes LOVE central. When all else fails, love lasts. Love lets YOU win! *******