Thursday, August 8, 2013

You Asked: Questions on the Holy Spirit, Part 1

On August 4th at Life Bible Fellowship Church we held a Deeper event on the Holy Spirit. Below is the video of both sessions, as well as the Q&A time. As usual we did not get to all the questions, so I am following up with a post.

Deeper #4 from Life Bible Fellowship Church on Vimeo.
These questions will make more sense if you attended the event and if you watch the video. But even if you didn't (and don't), I hope that this post will still be helpful and informative.

1. Is the Holy Spirit always empowering believers, or only at special times?
In the Old Testament, we see the Holy Spirit temporarily empowering men and women for specific tasks. This happens with warriors like Sampson or kings like David or prophets like Isaiah. By contrast, the Holy Spirit indwells believers permanently. When Jesus promises the coming of the Spirit in John 14:16 he says, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever--the Spirit of truth." The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:9: "You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ."
The Spirit indwells believers forever, and not only when he needs to do something that we would consider to be amazing. Our whole lives are meant to be transformed by his power, his leading, and his presence. The same Spirit who empowered warriors, gave wisdom to kings, and spoke through prophets now lives within us.
This said, we are still commanded to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), and be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The Spirit is always powerful, but we do not always tap into his power. We can quench his voice (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieve him by walking in the flesh (Ephesians 4:30). His power is always with us, but our experience of that power will depend on whether or not we walk with him.

2. Does the Holy Spirit ever leave a believer?
In Psalm 51:10-11 King David, after committing adultery and murder, prays,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Why was David afraid that God would take the Holy Spirit away from him? Most likely it is because this is what happened to David's predecessor Saul (1 Samuel 16:14) when God rejected him as king. David feared that God would likewise end his own kingship and take away the royal anointing of the Holy Spirit.
David had a real, genuine fear of losing the Holy Spirit. Should we?
The short answer is No. David lived in a time when God gave his Spirit, often temporarily, to empower his people to accomplish certain tasks. By contrast, God has now given his Spirit to all believers forever (John 14:16-17). The Spirit is our guarantee of adoption into the family of God (Romans 8:15-17). He is with us forever and will never be taken away.
This question is often related to the question, "Can Christians lose their salvation?" While this is debated, I come down firmly on the side of No. I believe that Scripture backs this up. Feel free to check out this previous post that explores this question.

3. Romans 8:26-27 says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Does he still intercede for us when we ask for things that are not good for us?
Romans 8:26-27 says this: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts know the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God."
While Christians will always debate whether or not this passage speaks of a Spirit-given prayer language, a bigger point is clear. When we are at the end of ourselves and we don't know how to pray, the Spirit helps us. He intercedes for us.
This doesn't mean that he will affirm every prayer that we pray. It may be that God is teaching me patience through a difficult co-worker. I could pray that God would lead this co-worker to resign. The Spirit is not going to shrug his shoulders and get on board with my selfish and short-sighted prayers. This is great news. Sometimes I don't know what to pray about a situation. I can just tell God when this is the case. "God, I am hurting and confused and frustrated. I don't even know what to ask you to do!" You know who does know? The Holy Spirit. We can trust him to step in and bridge the gap. What a wonderful gift!

4. Should we still be speaking in tongues today?
The Holy Spirit gives believers all kinds of gifts, including speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and interpretation of tongues. These are often called the sign gifts. Some Christians think that these sign gifts were only around for the Apostolic age, and that they are no longer present today. Those who hold this belief are called cessationists. In my opinion, this is based on some pretty flimsy use of the New Testament. No passage says that these gifts are no longer around. The go-to passage of cessationists is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10: "Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears."
Cessationists will claim that this passage tells us that tongues and prophecy will cease. They are right about that. The question is simply, "When?" Paul says that these gifts will no longer be necessary when completeness (or "the perfect") comes. So what is "the perfect." Cessationists will say that the perfect is the end of the Apostolic age and the complete revelation of God's written Word in the New Testament. While this interpretation is not impossible, it seems incredibly unlikely. It seems much more reasonable that the perfect is speaking of the return of Christ, the redemption of all things, and faith turning into sight. That is when our partial knowledge and experience of God will come to a point of maturity and completion.
So, in short, the New Testament does not seem to teach us that any of the Spirit's gifts have stopped being given.
To be fair to cessationists, they are not saying that the Spirit is no longer at work. They believe that the Spirit is at work, but that the sign gifts are no longer necessary now that we have the full revelation of God through Scripture. While I don't agree with their stance, we need to be careful not to paint them as people who reject the ministry of the Spirit today.
This said, Paul goes to great lengths in 1 Corinthians 12-14 to warn against seeking certain sign gifts for their own sake. God gives gifts as he sees fit. No one has all the gifts. Speaking in tongues is a rite of passage for Christians. Just as not everyone has the gift of teaching or mercy or administration, not everyone has the gift of tongue of prophecy or healing.
So, how should these gifts be used today? The short answer is, in an orderly way as the Spirit leads. They are meant to build up the body of Christ. They are meant to bring encouragement and exhortation and grace to God's people. If you want to delve more into how this is played out practically, check out this brief video from John Piper. I think he puts it really well.

5. How can we, as individuals and as a community, hear and act on the leading of the Spirit?
I love this question so much. May this be the cry of all of our hearts.
I tend to think of 3 key ways for believers, and churches, to open themselves up to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
First of all, we open ourselves up to the leading of the Spirit when we open ourselves up to God's Word. The Spirit inspired the authors who wrote God's Word (2 Peter 1:21), so he has already spoken through it. If we want to know what the Spirit is saying, we should expose ourselves to God's word in a spirit of prayer, humility, and responsiveness. The more that individuals and churches interact with God's Word this way, the more we all will hear the voice of the Spirit and allow ourselves the opportunity to follow his lead.
Second of all, we open ourselves up to the leading of the Spirit when we open ourselves up to God's people. If we truly believe that each Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then we believe that the Spirit can speak to us through our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Spirit leads us away from isolation and into community. As other Christians are involved in your life, the Spirit can give them insight into what God wants to say to you. The more that believers use their gifts in the context of the church, the more that churches will experience the leading of the Spirit. Open yourself up to God's people in small groups, in friendships, and in the context of your church leaders.
Finally, we open ourselves up to the leading of the Spirit when we take simple steps of obedience. We may not know where the Spirit is leading us down the road, but we often know what he is leading us to do right now. The more we listen to his voice, the more clearly we will hear him. The more we choose to ignore the sound of his voice, the more we will train ourselves to quench him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When the Spirit calls you to stop and pray, or confess a sin, or speak a word of encouragement or rebuke, or sign up to serve at church, listen! He who is faithful with a small thing will be entrusted with more.

This post covers only half of the extra questions, so keep your eye open for part 1, coming soon.

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