Friday, February 6, 2015

Understanding the Role of the Holy Spirit (in a not so charismatic way)

I've never felt like I had a firm understanding of the spirit or its role in our lives. Most of my exposure to teaching on this subject comes from Pentecostal and charismatic sources--of which I have always been slightly skeptical. Mostly because they did not match my own experience.

I was "baptized in the spirit" back when I was about twelve or so. I went out into the hallway with several other kids where we were prayed over and told to start speaking in tongues. Speak in tongues? How? I didn't know. At first I just waited for it to happen. But nothing came. One of the teachers told me to just say whatever comes to mind. But nothing was really coming to mind. So, I faked it. At the time, I thought maybe that was what I was supposed to do--you know, just let your lips make whatever incoherent sounds that come. Maybe that was the spirit talking through me. But, somehow that didn't seem right. It sure felt fake to me.

When I was looking for a bride, I prayed and prayed for God to give me a sign or speak to me as to what I was supposed to do. All I heard was my own voice. That's not to say I've never heard His voice. It's just rare. I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard Him speak to me. During that time of searching for a bride, I realized I was trying to force God to speak to me in a way in which we didn't really relate. That wasn't His way with me. It may be His way with others, but not me.

That was my first real lesson in communicating with God. I had known it deep down for a long time, but that was when it finally came to the surface to be recognized--God doesn't speak to me through a still small voice like many proclaim. He speaks to me through His Word, through wisdom, and through elders. That's how I was to discern His will.

I did a search for "will of God." Two of the verse that came up are the following:
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God...For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, -- Romans 8:27,29 
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. -- Romans 12:2
The first passage tells us that the Spirit prays on our behalf according to the will of God. What is the will of God? That we be conformed to the image of His Son. The second passage tells us how that transformation happened, i.e. by the "renewal of your mind." When I read this, I thought about how we are washed with the water of the Word. The Word of God renews our mind by aligning our focus with the purposes of God. It's like prayer. So, in one sense, I follow the Spirit by following the Word.


Sometime later, I began looking at the Apostle's Creed. It's divided into three sections, which can be said to mirror the trinity. The first two sections clearly deal with the Father and the Son, respectively. What threw me is the third section. It starts off talking about the Holy Spirit, but then quickly moves to the church and a few other odds and ends. Why? Could it be that the writers of this creed were trying to draw a connection between the Holy Spirit and the church? I don't know. But, it is an intriguing idea, nonetheless, and well worth looking into.

1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us that we are the Temple of God and that the Spirit dwells within us. This is commonly interpreted to mean individually. Indeed, a parallel verse in 6:19 would verify that idea. But, there is another sense in which we are God's Temple. According to Ephesians 2:19-22, we are all being built together into one Temple. This is reminiscent of the way in which the original Tabernacle was built using the offerings of all the Israelites. Together they came to form one structure. This also parallels the idea in Corinthians of us all together being the body of Christ. "Is the body of Christ divided?"

So, there is a sense in which the Spirit dwells within the entire body of believers. Not simply as a bunch of individuals. Not any particular denomination. The whole body.

What does it mean for an individual to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit? We say that he is guided by the spirit (Rom. 8:14). Sometimes the Spirit speaks through this person (2 Pet. 1:21). Most importantly, this person is undergoing regeneration through the Spirit (Titus 3:5). The implication here is that the church is being guided by the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit speaks through the church, and that the church is being renewed by the Spirit. Not just the Messianics--the whole church.

This fits in with another idea that I found in FFOZ's book "Gifts of the Spirit" (which I highly recommend). One of the things they point out in the opening chapters is that the purpose of the gifts is for the "common good" (1 Cor. 12:7). They are for the building up of the whole body (1 Cor 14:12, 26). As offshoots of Protestantism, we often become so focused on God's work in the individual that we forget He is up to something much bigger in the world. The Spirit is at work not just to prosper us individually, but to build us up as the unified body of Messiah.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not claiming the church is infallible or that we should do everything the church says. What I am saying is that God is working there and has been for the last two thousand years. It is through the church that the Bible we have today was canonized and preserved. It is through the church that the Word of God has spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. If it weren't for the church, we would continue to be in bondage to idolatry just like the ancient nations of Babylon, Greece, and Canaan. That has to count for something. Should we not treat her with the same respect we would have for any individual in which we see the Spirit of God working?

I know that's a lot to chew on. I hope that the first part is an encouragement to those who might struggle with the idea of hearing God. You're not alone. I hope that the second part challenges you to rethink the role of the Spirit in the church and the implications for us. I know this is an idea that probably won't set well with most Messianics--nevertheless, I feel it is important to share. It's yet another step in moving away from our isolationist culture toward the building of the Kingdom of God. We have something valuable to offer the church, I believe. The Messianic movement is one small part of what the Spirit is doing in these days. But, we have to wake up and realize that the church is not the enemy.


  1. Great post and interesting thoughts! I can identify with wondering in my younger years how the Holy Spirit "worked." At one time I thought every Christian had to speak in tongues at least once in their life, and when I was "baptized in the Spirit" I was really, really open to speaking in tongues---but nothing came. Not getting any "spiritual gifts" or manifesting physical signs caused me concern later on, and contributed to my period of doubts and questions in my teens (I guess we all go through that at some point). So it really is quite important for people to understand that not everyone receives a physical manifestation of the Spirit. The important thing is what you said in your article: living according to God's Word and building up His body. That people can even do that is evidence itself of God's Spirit at work! I know individuals who have had those spiritual gifts (my mom and dad, for two), but I am no longer concerned about not getting them myself.

    I, too, appreciate FFOZ's teachings about the gifts of the Spirit ... it's really helped solidify what I've learned and taught me new things. I especially enjoyed the recent articles in Messiah Journal about the individual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians and their history in the Bible, the life of Yeshua, and Jewish literature---definitely gives them a context!

    And what you say about the church is so true---the Spirit is evidently at work in them, too, so how can we even think of trying to tear down part of the house of God? Hadn't thought of it in quite that way before!

    Thanks for such an insightful article!

    1. Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you found the post encouraging. It's always good to hear from others who can identify with similar struggles, and who can encourage and challenge one another.