From the Editor

What is missing in the current practice of Christianity to cause bizarre groups to flourish?

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.
Our current discussion of authentic Christianity in distinction to cults must include the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The importance of this historic tenet of faith can be seen in the unequivocal declaration of Christ, " 'Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be for given, either in this age or in the age to come' " (Matt. 12:32, N.I.V.).*

This solemn warning cannot be interpreted to mean that Christ is inferior to the Holy Spirit. Never! Rather, this pas sage reveals the uniqueness of the Trinity, and the specific work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. (See John 16:5- 11.) One may ignorantly reject Christ, as did some of those who crucified Him, but no one can ignorantly reject the Ambassador of conviction and persuasion, the Holy Spirit. To reject Him is to reject the very agency that the Godhead uses to communicate with men.

The Holy Spirit is the silent voice that causes conviction and creates faith in the soul. If we deliberately turn a deaf ear to His voice, we sever the channel between us and Heaven. Since sin has no remedy to cure itself, the soul is left in darkness, and the fatal words echo in heaven's courts, "'Leave him alone!'" (Hosea 4:17, N.I.V.). God pronounced a similar mournful declaration over the human race in Noah's day, when He said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Gen. 6:3). Every life has its point of no return—a fact that King David sensed with distinct awfulness as he implored God, "Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11, N.I.V.).

The vast breadth and scope of the Holy Spirit's work is often misunderstood. Some narrow down the work of the third member of the Godhead to one particular phase, such as the gift of speaking in tongues, thus severely limiting His authority and the efforts He puts forth for us individually. Others confine the work of the Holy Spirit to some particular time or dispensation.

However, the Scriptures describe His activity in broad terms that extend across all ages. From the account of Creation in the opening verses of Gene sis "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2) to the magnificent invitation in the closing verses of Revelation—"The Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rev. 22:17) the fabric of Scripture weaves in the bright threads of the Holy Spirit's role.

David emphasizes the omnipresence of the Spirit: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (Ps. 139:7, N.I.V.). God's Spirit imparted special skill, ability, and knowledge to Bezaleel, chief craftsman and artist of the ancient tabernacle and its furnishings (see Ex. 31:1-11). When the Lord commanded Moses to select seventy elders as leaders and officials in Israel, He promised, " T will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them'" (Num 11:17, N.I.V.). The objective of the Spirit's work in this particular case was to enable men to share with Moses, in an efficient and faithful way, the work of leading Israel through the wilderness.

The Spirit of God came upon Balaam and enabled him to prophesy (Num. 24:1-9). Moses' successor, Joshua, was a man upon whom the Spirit of God rested (Num. 27:18). The book of Judges reveals that the Spirit of the Lord came upon such leaders as Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.

Before Saul, first king of Israel, re belled against God in his later life, the prophet Samuel informed him, " 'The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person'" (1 Sam. 10:6, N.I.V.). Saul's tragic experience should teach us that God's Spirit may control us today but can be grieved and rejected tomorrow. It should also teach us that continued rebellion leads to the unpardonable sin. The faithful record states simply, "Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul" (1 Sam. 16:14, N.I.V.). The Old Testament list of those upon whom the Spirit of God rested could be extended to include Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, and a host of others.

A key New Testament text pointing to the evident work of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times is found in the penetrating words of Stephen. In language that undoubtedly helped to settle his fate, he accused his hearers: " 'You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!' " (Acts 7:51, N.I.V.). The same resistance to the appeals and conviction of the Holy Spirit so prevalent in Stephen's day had been also evident in Old Testament times. History repeats itself.

Because Paul believed that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil, he urged Christians to take up the sword of the Spirit, and to pray in the Spirit, in order to defeat both seen and unseen enemy forces (see Eph. 6:10-18). In his warfare against supernatural forces the Christian can be assured of supernatural help. The Holy Spirit, as the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, directs this battle, and has been doing so ever since sin came into our world. This raging warfare, and the weapons God provides for our victory, cannot be limited to New Testament times.

The reality of this warfare and the struggle between Christ and Satan, the Holy Spirit and the spirit of demons, can be found in both the Old and New Testaments. Listen to the Word of the Lord, spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit" (Isa. 63:10, N.I.V.). God faced the same set of problems in redeeming people then that He did in New Testament times, and that He does today. Sinners are sinners. The rebellious, unconverted heart is essentially the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Ephesians 4:30, the New Testament counter part of Isaiah 63:10, warns: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (N.I.V.).

Even Christ's discourse on the new birth, in John 3, which some have viewed as uniquely applicable to New Testament times and/or the future, has its Old Testament counterpart in Ezekiel 36:26 and 27: " ' "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" ' " (N.I.V.). To place this statement in a future prophetic setting misses the thrust of Ezekiel's mission and mes sage to the captive Jews in Babylon. God attempted, through Ezekiel, to make powerful appeals to His people with a two-fold objective—first, to cause a genuine experience of repentance, and second, to teach man that salvation is of the Lord. Since conversion itself is an act of re-creation wrought by the Holy Spirit, the need of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit has been evident throughout earth's history.

The texts we have been considering indicate that God's Spirit has been operating throughout scriptural history, yet it must be noted that the office, work, and personality of the Holy Spirit is more clearly depicted in New Testament times. Our Lord gave explicit information to the disciples regarding the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16). The apostle Paul pointed out that the Spirit dwells in us and intercedes for us (Rom. 8:9, 26). It is through the Spirit that gifts are dispensed to Christ's followers, to en able them to perform the work that God designs His church to do (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). It is this same power that develops in the Christian the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). The reason we have in our journal a section dealing with health and religion is that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

When our Lord breathed on His disciples and said, "'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22, N.I.V.), He was imparting to them, through His Spirit, ability to grasp truths that they had failed to understand previously. Following this, the Saviour spent forty days explaining the prophecies and opening their minds, "so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45, N.I.V.). Only through the blessing of the Spirit of God can any person understand the Word of God properly.

Although the Holy Spirit has been active from the very beginning of human history and was often revealed in a marked manner during the time before the cross, He had never been manifested in His fullness. Under the symbols of the "early" and the "latter" rain, the Bible brings to view two special outpourings in which the Spirit comes with extraordinary power upon the faithful followers of the Lord Jesus.

The climate in Palestine consists principally of the dry season and the rainy season, which lasts from autumn to spring. The first autumn showers, called the "early" rains, moisten the sun-hardened earth to allow for plowing and sowing before the heavy rains of winter. The "late" rains at the end of the wet season mature the grain just prior to the harvests in the spring. Thus the Old Testament prophets used these symbols to illustrate a twofold outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the earth.

The first, or "early," rain was at Pentecost, when, as the Saviour had promised, the Spirit came with unprecedented force upon the disciples as they tarried in the upper room. Peter declared publicly that this experience was a specific fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of Joel 2:28-32. " 'This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" ' " (Acts 2:16, 17, R.S.V.). In the power of this endowment the apostles spread the gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide until it penetrated every nook and cranny of the ancient world.

Likewise, the Scriptures speak of a "latter" rain, in which the Holy Spirit is to come in a special manifestation—this time to usher in the final preaching of the gospel, as Pentecost inaugurated its initial proclamation (see Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23-32; Zech. 10:1). The gospel message is to close at the end of time with no less manifestation of the Holy Spirit's power than was exhibited at its beginning. The early rain of Pentecost, which prepared the soil, will be complemented by the latter rain, which will ripen the final harvest of earth prior to the return of our Lord.

Praise God that, although we live in unusual times, unable to cope with the mounting forces of evil on our own, we have the promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who will give us victory over sin and guide us throughout our lives. What a privilege is ours, as ministers of God, to experience, as did our Lord, " 'the Spirit without limit' " (John 3:34, N.I.V.)! We need to remember that only through the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit can the enemy be defeated. The Holy Spirit is the defense of every humble soul.

Note carefully that the Holy Spirit does not control a person against his will. He cooperates with us, not to take the place of our wills, but to strengthen them. We must choose to invite His presence into our lives. We need to pray that the mighty energies of the Holy Spirit, with all their quickening, recuperative, and transforming power, may fall like an electric shock on our palsy-stricken souls, causing every nerve to thrill with new life, restoring us from our dead, earthly, sensual state to spiritual soundness. Only thus can we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust; only thus will our souls reflect the image of Him by whose stripes we are healed.

Neither is the Holy Spirit given to be controlled or used as we see fit. Here is where historic Christianity and the cults often part company.' We hear much about "being led of the Spirit." Often the phrase is but a thin euphemism to lend spiritual support for doing what the speaker wants to do. We find today those who claim to be led by the Spirit in all sorts of activities that are contrary to the Word of God. Jim Jones apparently felt led by the Spirit to lead his followers to a South American "paradise," where they found instead of love, joy, and peace, the fruits of the Spirit fear, suspicion, and death, the fruits of megalomania and sin.

Before we glibly speak of being led by the Spirit, we need to remember that the Spirit never leads contrary to the Word of God. They are always in total agreement (see John 1:6:13). The apostle John warns, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1, R.S.V.). He goes on to point out that they may know the genuine Spirit by His fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Word.

We would do well to heed the warning of the apostle Paul to his young ministerial student, Timothy: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4:1, 2, N.I.V.). These words are straight-forward. In this age of spiritual confusion and chaos, when many are blown about with every wind of doctrine, let us, as ministers of the Word, cling to the Word, plead for the power of the Spirit, and be faithful in our duty to proclaim the pure, unadulterated gospel. —J. R. S.

Note:

* Texts credited to N.I.V. are from the New International Version, copyright New York International Bible Society, 1973, 1978. Used by permission.


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

September 1979

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