The Spirit Within

It has been a most exciting and beneficial season for me as I have in recent months studied, pondered and written about the Holy Spirit and His relationship to our Christian lives. I hope it has been beneficial, encouraging and challenging to you as well.

As I stated at the onset, it has not been my endeavor to present a particular doctrinal position regarding the Holy Spirit and then attempt to persuade you to embrace that view. Rather, it has been my desire to explore, examine and articulate different reasonable doctrinal views and glean from those views some constants and/or similarities that might guide us to a more clear understanding of the Spirit’s role in our lives.

By way of a brief review, we have established that the Holy Spirit is regarded in scripture as a person and that person being a member of the triune Godhead and therefore fully God in essence.

Though He is oft referenced with imagery such as dove, wind, fire, water and oil, He is also titled with agencies related to personhood such as teacher, comforter, interceder and empowerer. He is also the personal agent who searches all things (I Corinthians 2:10), knows the mind of God (I Corinthians 2:11), teaches the gospel to believers (I Corinthians 2:13), dwells among believers (I Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:11; 2 Timothy 1:14), accomplishes all things (I Corinthians 12:11), gives life to those who believe (2 Corinthians 3:6), and many more such designations found throughout the scriptures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, He is the member of the Godhead who now not only dwells among us, but literally lives within us so that we might be who God intends and has purposed for us to be “in Christ.”

We’ve established that the Holy Spirit is the one who draws us, convicts us, transforms and indwells us fully, not partially. Being fully indwelt by His Spirit we are still instructed to grow and desire more of a constant flow of the Spirit in and through our lives by being continually filled with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

Especially in the last Praiseletter we examined terminology such as indwelt, filled and baptized in, by or with the Holy Spirit. We concluded that though there are varying opinions on the definition and application of these terms in our lives, we also agree they all have biblical precedent and assure us that the Holy Spirit works in us initially (at conversion), continually (through sanctification), and subsequently (through various giftings and empowering).

I use the word “we” in the sense that we have gone on this journey together and in an agreeable temperament have considered carefully all that has been presented. “We” is not used with a presumption that we all hold the same opinion on these matters. Most likely “we” don’t, however I don’t think it can ever be problematic to explore and discuss all we can about the precious Holy Spirit.

What is problematic and detrimental to spiritual growth and understanding is when we avoid the subject either in large part or altogether. This was my original concern and reason for diving into this topic. I fear the Holy Spirit has been greatly marginalized if not avoided altogether in many of our churches and thus in our personal lives.

This brings me to the final topic of consideration in this series of letters on the Holy Spirit. This last consideration is possibly the most complex, highly debated and doctrinally dividing issue. It is the issue of whether or not those spiritual gifts referenced, evidenced and experienced in the New Testament church are still available to the church today.

I’ll give you my simple answer up front; which is yes. Then I’ll give you my simplest explanation as to why I believe that, knowing at the same time I have greatly loved and respected brothers and sisters in Christ who hold a differing view and opinion.

If you’re not familiar with the term Cessationist, it refers to those who hold to a view that either some or all of the miraculous (sometimes called manifestation) gifts referenced most often in the Pauline epistles, have ceased. Thus, the word cessationist. Of course, there are varying opinions that have led to a cessationist viewpoint, but for our purposes here we’ll look at just the more prominent one.

Paul seems to almost interrupt his discussion of spiritual gifts with chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. In short, he intends to illustrate the superiority of love in relation to the power and practice of the gifts.

“Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The particular and I believe most popular cessationist view hinges on the term, “the perfect.” In short, they define the term, “the perfect” as referring to scripture or more specifically the completion of the canon of scripture. Thus, now that we have the complete and “perfect” revelation through the canon of scripture, there is therefore no more need for the imperfect gifts.

Personally, I see (as do many others) some problems with this view that I will attempt to highlight in as simple a way as possible.

First of all, Paul addressed his letter to the church at Corinth around 55 or 56 A.D. The Apostle John wrote Revelation somewhere between 90-95 A.D.

Therefore, one must conclude that the miraculous giftings of the Holy Spirit, introduced by arguably one of the most significant steps taken by God in the history of mankind as He now literally dwells within a human temple, are to be utilized for a period of only 35-40 years.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 13 it would be like saying, “We can be sure that love will never end for we know that it will last for more than thirty-five or forty years.”

The real context is to contrast this age with the age to come: the return of Christ.

Secondly, I’m not aware of any place in scripture where the term, “the perfect” refers to parchments, manuscripts or written texts. Scripture however repeatedly points to Christ as perfect. (see Hebrews 2:10, 5:9, 7:28)

The perfection of Christ is a principle in Christology which asserts that Christ’s human attributes exemplified perfection in every possible sense.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Sinless = Perfection!!

I believe more sound biblical scholarship supports the idea that “the perfect” referenced in 1 Corinthians 13 refers to Christ, the Perfect One.

I believe there are numerous reasons to believe that 1 Corinthians 13 is referencing Christ and His return but for simplicity sake let’s take a look at just one more.

Thirdly, I would like to quote Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones to best articulate this position. He observes that the view that makes “when the perfect comes” equal the time of completion of the New Testament encounters another difficulty:

“It means you and I, who have the Scriptures open before us, know much more than the Apostle Paul of God’s truth…It means that we are altogether superior…even to the apostles themselves, including the Apostle Paul! It means that we are now in a position in which…’we know, even as also we are known’ by God…indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, it is nonsense.”

I would recommend not using the word nonsense to address your cessationist brothers and sisters. Dr. Jones was a feisty soul! It seemed to fit him well, but it might not as much, you and me.

He does make a sound point however.

The “then” in verse 12 of 1 Corinthians refers to “when” in verse 10. If “when the perfect comes” is referring to the completion of scripture, we must now be realizing the “then” of verse 12 and therefore now are “face to face” and “know fully”, etc…

The verse in it’s simplest form would read, “When scripture is completed, then we will be face to face and know as we are known.” I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’m there yet, but I will be when Christ returns.

John Calvin said, referring to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:

“It is stupid of people to make the whole of this discussion apply to the intervening time.”

I think Calvin here encourages us to not get caught up in the choosing of sides but to step back and see the larger context of God’s enduring eternal love contrasted against the temporal and imperfect.

Dr. Gordon Fee so wonderfully points out that Paul certainly did not see the gifts as neatly framed categories of ministerial, motivational or miraculous gifts as we sometimes observe in our “spiritual gifts” workshops.

Paul addressed certain gifts to the church at Rome because those were needed by them. He addressed certain gifts to the church at Ephesus because those particular gifts were pertinent to their situation. The church at Corinth was struggling with misuse if not abuse of certain gifts so Paul addressed that situation with instruction on gifts pertaining to their dilemma.

Though I am not quoting directly, I am confident and comfortable with the fact that I am properly representing Dr. Fee’s thoughts on this subject when I say that Paul would not have seen these neat little categories of gifts as we so often do.

He would, it would seem throughout his epistles, deem all these gifts and more as not only beneficial but essential to the growth, life and spiritual health of the church until Jesus returned.

There is so much more to explore and say regarding this present topic as well as all that we have discussed over the previous months. I hope and pray you will dig deep in the Word, read good books on the subject, “study to show yourself approved” so that you might know what you believe, why you believe it and be able to defend it soundly and fairly.

I feel I must say a deep and sincere thank you to Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Dr. Wayne Grudem and Dr. Gordon Fee. Their writings have greatly helped, influenced and enriched my understanding of the Holy Spirit and things related. When I have quoted them directly I have endeavored to always emphasize and indicate that by reference and quotation marks.

I must say however that many of the things I wrote from my own heart and mind (hopefully with the Spirit’s help) still resonated the voices of these great men and others from within my own being. All of this has been a quest to explore, understand, grow and experience the reality, power and presence of The Spirit Within.