The Underrated Role of the Spirit

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Unfortunately, many churches throughout history have been practicing “binitarians.” They may believe in the Trinity, but they spend almost all of their energy teaching about the role of the Father and Son, and ignoring the Spirit. It’s pretty clear to see how many mainstream Protestant movements of the past 100 years have ignored the Spirit – they just aren’t very comfortable with the topic, and don’t give it much pulpit time. If any church were to buck this trend, you would think it would be a Pentecostal movement, with its emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues has a lot of doctrinal side effects, one of which is the de-emphasis on the work of the Spirit in the lives of non-tongues speaking Christians (which, as it turns out, is almost everyone).

A quick note before we begin, I will generally refer to the third person of the trinity as “the Spirit,” because the King James Bible does this 137 times. Also, as the Spirit is a person and not a force, I will refer to the Spirit as “he” rather than “it.” This is also the way Jesus referred to him (John 14:16-17).

The Role of the Spirit in the Church

It is critical that we place a proper emphasis on the Spirit, because the Bible teaches that the Spirit is indispensable in the lives of both the individual believer and the corporate body. Here are a few of the Biblical tasks that the Spirit performs (this is not an exhaustive list).

These Things are All Done through the Spirit

The Spirit Gives the Believer Assurance of Salvation

Romans 8:16 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:”

The Spirit Gives Us the Ability to Proclaim Christ as Lord

1 Corinthians 12:3 “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

The Spirit Empowers Believers to Overcome the Lusts of the Flesh

Galatians 5: 16-19 “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

The Spirit Empowers Believers to Bear the Fruit of Character

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

The Spirit Assembles Believers Together into the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Note that “drinking of the Spirit” was something that Paul said all believers in Corinth did.

These Abilities Explicitly Require Being Indwelt by the Spirit

The Spirit Empowers Believers to Witness

Acts 1:5,8 “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence…But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Note that the power to be a witness is contingent upon filling with the Spirit.

The Spirit Gives Believers the Words to Say in Difficult Situations

Matthew 10:18-20 “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” Note that the Spirit is speaking from within someone – this would require them to be indwelt by him.

The Spirit Gives Us the Ability to Please God

Romans 8:8-9 ” So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Note that Paul is saying that being in the Spirit means having the Spirit dwell in you. He says this is a requirement to please God.

The Spirit Teaches Believers How to Understand the Scripture

John 14: 25-25 “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

1 Corinthians 2:10-12 “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” Note that there is no grammatical reason why the KJV translators did not capitalize “Spirit which is of God.” All other translations capitalize this as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Paul also makes “receiving the Spirit” a condition of knowing the things of God.

The Spirit’s Inhabitance Makes Believers a “Temple”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Note that the Spirit being in the believer is a condition of the believer being called a temple.

The Spirit does all of this ministry and much more. Many of these verses refer to explicitly to the indwelling of the Spirit as a condition for him to do his work. The rest infer it. In the Holiness doctrine that I grew up in, speaking in tongues was considered necessary evidence that you were “baptized with the Holy Ghost” which was considered synonymous with the Spirit dwelling in you. There are some subcamps with slightly different takes, so I will address those later. Let’s start by assuming that all believers past and present who did not speak in tongues did not have the baptism of the Spirit/ indwelling of the Spirit which Jesus promised.

Implications of the Belief that Christians Who Do Not Speak in Tongues Do Not Have the Spirit

Great missionaries and preachers who did not speak in tongues testified of Jesus through their own strength. Amy Carmichael, who ministered in India to orphans for over 50 years, did so through her own fortitude. Hudson Taylor brought Christ to China without the power of the Spirit to share Christ. Johnathan Edwards called a nation to repentance with his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” through his own wisdom, because God’s wisdom was not accessible to him through the Spirit. George Mueller’s faith couldn’t have been a fruit of the Spirit, since he was not Spirit-filled. Ergo, the faith that brought food to thousands of orphans was a faith of the flesh.

Great theologians who did not speak in tongues uncovered truths of God’s word in their own wisdom – the Spirit was not in their lives to teach them. This would include the great reformer Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant movement. It would also include John Wesley, the predecessor of most Holiness theological distinctive.

The martyrs who did not speak in tongues must have been inspired by their own strength when they stood before their accusers. When the early Bible translator William Tyndale died with the words “open the eyes of the King of England” on his lips, he had to originate those words himself, because the Spirit was not in him. When Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake by Bloody Mary, Latimer made a dying proclamation that “We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.” Given that he didn’t speak in tongues, and therefore could not have had the baptism of the Holy Ghost, it is remarkable that a mortal man had such courage in his flesh.

Regular Christians who do not speak in tongues have many difficulties – and many of them sit on Holiness pews. They have no assurance of salvation, they cannot escape the works of the flesh, and they cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit, they cannot witness, and they cannot please God. They also cannot make basic proclamations such as “Jesus is Lord.” Oh – and their bodies are not temples.

Clearly, it is shocking to see that non tongues speakers have accomplished anything in the church given the Bible’s relentless emphasis on how important the Spirit is to every aspect of our life as believers.

But it gets even worse. These awkward verses, state that absence of the Spirit is the mark of an unbeliever.

Romans 8:8-9 ” So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Jude 1:18-19 “How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.”

So it looks like all godly people are indwelt by the Spirit, and if speaking in tongues is the correct evidence of that, then it would appear that none of the people mentioned were even Christians at all.

So we have two facts to reconcile. First, the Bible says you need to be baptized in the Spirit to do pretty much anything for God. The role of the Spirit is absolutely huge and should be spoken of and known more widely in all churches. Second, the majority of the Christian movers and shakers of the past thousand years can be demonstrated to not have spoken in tongues (prior to that point, we don’t have a clear enough picture of most people’s lives to say whether they did or not).

Some people, uncomfortable with the implications I have described, have developed variations of the doctrine, which don’t make the enigma so difficult. If the camp I first described  is that non-tongues speakers have none of the power of the Spirit, then the second camp is that non-tongues speakers get some of the power of the Spirit, and the third is that they get almost all of the power of the Spirit.

For the “some” camp, there are a few issues. They have to provide a Biblical justification for why the work of the Spirit is split into two segments (I can’t respond to it, because I haven’t seen it). Just as significantly, this  “half work of grace” camp has to create a bright line in Scripture for which attributes are associated with which half of the work. If they say that attributes associated explicitly with “indwelling” are  reserved for the baptism with evidence of speaking in tongues, then they have to concede that witnessing, speaking before your accusers, pleasing God, understanding Scripture, and having a a body as a temple are all reserved for the second work. This seems like a rather arbitrary set of traits to reserve for the second half, and it is still such an essential set, that most of my points about the rest of the church being completely ineffectual without these traits would still stand.

For the “almost all” camp, which would say that all of the power mentioned in the verses I cited is available to non-tongues speakers, they have a tougher question to answer.  What exactly does the second half of the experience do? At that point, they have literally stripped all of the attributes associated with the baptism of the Spirit except for speaking in tongues. Their position is only semantically different from the case that much of the broader Church would make, that the indwelling of the Spirit occurs at salvation and imparts all of the power that Jesus foretold. The gift of tongues may come later. They have functionally renamed the gift of tongues, the “Baptism of the Holy Ghost” so that they could take all of the attributes associated with the fullness Spirit and “give” them to the rest of the Church, and thus avoid the terrible dilemma of explaining how the rest of the Church functions without the Spirit. At this point, they are making a distinction without a showing a difference from the standard orthodoxy. They could feasibly get around this by claiming that tongues speakers don’t have different attributes, they just have them with more power – greater intensity. This still raises the question of how the “low-intensity” pioneers like Martin Luther, Johnathan Edwards, and Amy Carmichael managed to accomplish so much on a “survival dose” of the Spirit. It also raises the question of why the many thousands of fire baptized tongues speaking Holiness people haven’t blown the accomplishments of these meager people out of the water.

My evidence doesn’t prove that the indwelling of the Spirit together with all of his power given to all believers at salvation. Nor does it prove that such a filling may not necessarily be accompanied by the gift of tongues. Such a claim would have to be made by careful exegesis. However, it does build a circumstantial case designed to make you think. If the Holy Ghost is so critical to the life of the believer, how have so many titans of the faith operated to one degree or another “without him?”

Spoiler alert:

They haven’t.

-Nathan Mayo

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