THE CHRISTIAN AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
By Wayne S. Walker
Our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends in the religious world affirm that the Holy Spirit operates in the lives of God’s people today in a miraculous way, as He did in the first century, enabling them to speak in tongues and perform other similarly inspired activities, and guiding them in some kind of direct fashion. When they tell us these things and we, as non-denominational, New Testament Christians, attempt to teach them from the Scriptures that it is not so, their reaction often ranges from shock (“How could anyone not believe in the acts of the Holy Spirit today?”), to anger (“How dare you tell me that what I have experience is not true!”), to pity (“What poor, misguided souls, not to believe in and have the power of the Spirit in their lives”). I even had one lady accuse me of the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost because I had suggested the possibility that some of the so-called miraculous activity today had its origin with the deception of the devil rather than with Christ.
It is clear from the Scriptures that God intends there to be a relationship between the Christian and the Holy Spirit. “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). However, it is our obligation to understand and explain this relationship, not from subjective, emotional experiences, but from the plain teachings of God’s Holy Word. The question at issue is not whether God could perform miracles through the Holy Spirit today (He could if He wanted to!), but whether God has said in His revealed will that He would perform miracles today through the Holy Spirit. It is that question that we wish to examine in this article.
Do Christians Have the Holy Spirit?
Again, it is quite evident from God’s Word that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, at least in some sense. The apostle Peter promised that if we repent of our sins and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, we shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). He also said, “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). And in 1 John 4:13 we read, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” While Bible scholars differ in their understanding of these passages, it is the conviction of this writer that all three of them refer to what we commonly call the “ordinary” indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Yet, whatever they mean, they affirm that we do have the Holy Spirit today.
However, our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends do err in their application of these Scriptures. It is simply a mistake to assume that every time the Scripture mentions the work of the Spirit in our lives, it is speaking of that which is miraculous in nature. When we try to show from the Bible that God has not said that He would do miracles today, we are sometimes accused of limiting the power of God. But that is not the case. God is all-powerful. He can do anything that He chooses to do, consistent with His nature, and there is nothing that we mere mortals could do to limit His power.
Therefore, it is, again, not a matter of what God can do but of what He has said that He will do. He could have raised up sons to Abraham from the stones, but He chose not to do so (Matthew 3:9). According to Romans 8:1-11, the basic function of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to help us overcome the influence of the carnal world. This can be and is done with miracles. In fact, it is the Pentecostal and Charismatic who in a sense actually limit the power of God in that they claim He must work by miracle, thus denying Him all the other ways in which He might choose to work.
Do We Have Holy Spirit Miracles Today?
All Bible believers accept the fact that the Holy Spirit performed miracles through specially endowed men and women in the first century. The Biblical evidence for this is overwhelming. In John chapters 13-16, Jesus spoke with His apostles just after their observance of the Passover and just before His betrayal (see John 13:1-2, 5, 22-23). He promised that He would give them another Comforter or Helper, who is the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; cf. 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:7-15). Later, following His death and resurrection, He again met with the apostles on the evening after He was raised (John 20:19-20). He told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Then, just before His ascension, He spoke one last time with the apostles (Acts 1:1-4). He said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
These promises were completely fulfilled just a few days later in Acts 2:1-4, when they (i.e., Matthias with the eleven apostles, 1:26) were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with foreign tongues. We know that this applied only to the apostles because the speakers are identified as all Galileans, and the only ones who are actually mentioned as speaking are “Peter, standing up with the eleven” (vs. 7, 14). This is what is known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Acts 1:5).
The only other possible recorded instance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that of the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-47, 11:15-16). There is no evidence whatever in the Scripture that anyone else (with the possible exception of the apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:11-12) received the baptism of the Spirit. If there is evidence, let it be produced. And nowhere do the Scriptures say that we should be baptized in the Holy Spirit today. If so, again, let the passage be produced.
Remember that the promises noted in the last few paragraphs with reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit were made only to the apostles. Sometimes it is claimed that we need the same power of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that we can be witnesses for Christ as were the apostles. It is true that the apostles were the witnesses of Christ (Acts 2:32). But has Christ asked us to be His witnesses? What is a witness? Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word “witness” as “a person who saw, or can give a firsthand account of, something.” Of what were the apostles commissioned to be witnesses? Acts 1:22 tells us that they were to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection because they had seen the Lord following His resurrection and could thus give a firsthand account of its reality. However, the apostle Paul was the last person actually to see the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). Therefore, we cannot be witnesses today as the apostles were in the first century because there is not a person alive who has truly seen the risen Christ and can give firsthand testimony about it. It follows, then, that we do not need the same kind of miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as they did.
There were others in the first century church who had miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit and His power in their lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1-2). However, these gifts did not come through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, since, as we have already seen, the only two clear cases of this were the apostles on Pentecost and the household of Cornelius. Rather, they came by the laying on of the hands of the apostles (note Acts 8:14-21, 19:5-7; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6).
However, we no longer have living apostles in the church today. Their work was completed when they received the revelation of the mystery and wrote it down for all mankind for all times (Ephesians 3:3-5). Their work is still being accomplished through the written word which they gave us, but they are no longer alive. Thus, there is no agency in existence today by which these miraculous gifts may be transmitted to others. Remember, it was only through the laying on of the apostles’ hands that the Holy Spirit was given, miraculously speaking, except for those chosen few who were baptized in the Spirit.
What was the purpose of these miraculous gifts on the part of the apostles and those on whom they laid their hands? According to Mark 16:15-20, as they went into all the world preaching the gospel to every creature, the Lord confirmed their message by the miraculous signs that followed them. Yet, according to Hebrews 2:1-4, that word of salvation has already been confirmed by the signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. And according to Galatians 3:15, what is true of a man’s covenant is also true of God’s covenant with us: once it has been confirmed, it needs no further confirmation. The only reason for additional confirmation would be if there were to be any changes, additions, or subtractions, and we are specifically forbidden from doing that (Galatians 1:1-9; Revelation 22:18-19). The faith has been once for all delivered (Jude v. 3). Since the word has already been confirmed, there is no need for miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost today to confirm it any further.
Sometimes, it is claimed that in passages like Mark 16:15-20 Christ is talking to all of us since the Bible is meant for today, the present and the future because we are still His followers, His disciples. It is true that the Bible is written for us today, but it is simply not true that everything in the Bible is written specifically to us. God has said, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14). But our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends are not out literally building an ark because they realize that God was speaking to Noah, not to us, although all this was still written “for our learning” (Romans 15:4).
Thus, it is the duty of the Bible student to handle aright (or rightly divide) the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). This means to study the context of any given passage to see if the application is specific, and therefore limited, or if it is general and can hence be extended to us today. While it is true that the gospel must be preached to every creature in all ages, the context of Mark 16:15-20 shows that the signs mentioned must be limited to the age of miracles. Why is this so?
The answer lies in the Biblical duration of miracles. The New Testament itself predicts that these miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would come to an end. “…But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Paul is here not talking about the fulfillment of prophecy failing, or normal languages that we speak ceasing, or common knowledge vanishing away, but miraculous abilities in these areas. And he says that they will be done away when that which is perfect has come. What is that which is perfect? It is affirmed by some that this is the second coming of Christ and that the miraculous gifts will continue until then. But the passage does not say that!
Look at the context. “That which is perfect” is set in contrast to “that which is in part.” What was “in part”? Paul says that it was the knowledge and the prophecy, that is, revelation by means of inspired prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miraculous knowledge. Therefore, that which is perfect must also refer to revelation. The word “perfect” here means “complete.” Thus we have a contrast between partial revelation accomplished by the preaching of inspired men in the first century and the perfect or complete revelation as found in the written word which we have today. James 1:25 speaks of “the perfect law of liberty.” And when that completed revelation came, which was around the close of the first century, Paul declares, the in-part means of revelation by which it was produced and confirmed would be done away, and that would include all the miraculous abilities and activities of the Holy Spirit. The testimony of many of the early “church fathers” of the second and third centuries confirms this conclusion.
Often Acts 2:17 is cited as evidence that the miraculous gifts are for us today. Peter, quoting Joel 2:28-32, said, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” The claim is first that in “the last days,” the days just before Christ comes back, He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and second that these are the last days in which this is happening. However, when Peter quoted this prophecy of Joel, he said, “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (v. 16), referring to the events of Pentecost.
So, this prophecy of Joel was fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost and the gifts given to those on whom they laid their hands in the first century, and not in any events supposedly taking place today. Furthermore, it is merely an assumption that “the last days” are the days just before Christ comes back. The writer of Hebrews, writing in the first century, spoke of “these last days” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Thus, “the last days” is a period of time which began on Pentecost and will last until the second coming of Christ. Also, there is no way of knowing whether we are living in the days just before Christ returns because He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Again, this goes to show that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were limited to the first century.
How Does the Holy Spirit Operate Today?
The purpose of the foregoing argumentation has not been to prove that we do not have nor need the Holy Spirit today. The Scriptures teach us that we do indeed have the Holy Spirit and that we do in fact need Him and His influence in our lives. The Holy Spirit operates in the conversion of the sinner in that His work involves convicting the world of sin (John 16:8-9). As Christians, we are to be led of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18, Ephesians 5:17-18). But how does the Spirit accomplish these works? Ephesians 6:17 says that “the sword of the Spirit” is “the word of God.” In other words, just as an ancient soldier used a sword to accomplish his work, so the Spirit uses the word to accomplish His work. This is not to say that the Spirit is the word, or that the Spirit gave us the word then retired and became inactive. He still works, but His work is done through the word. What a person is said to accomplish through the agency of someone or something else, he himself must be active in doing. The farmer may have used a horse and wagon to take his grain to the mill, but we still say that the farmer took the grain to the mill. Thus, we must understand that the agency or means by which the Spirit works today in the conviction and conversion of sinners, as well as in the leading and guiding of the Christian, is the word which He has revealed to us.
Then what is the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives today? It is not speaking in unknown tongues, performing miraculous healings, or exercising other miraculous gifts. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The evidence of the Spirit’s influence today is the spiritual qualities mentioned here as demonstrated in our lives. How does the Spirit help us bring forth this fruit? It does not take a miracle. Instead, He teaches us in His word how to develop them. He tells us, “…Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). These are not miracles but characteristics that the Spirit could not help us to develop in our lives without our own effort and cooperation.
How can we explain all the so-called miraculous activity that is so common in the religious world today? Those involved in it say that the gift of tongues cannot be from the devil because Acts 2:11 says that it is part of the wonderful works of God. Yes, we agree that speaking in tongues in the first century was a wonderful work of God because the evidence proves it to be so. However, we cannot concur that speaking in tongues today is a work of God because there is no ample evidence of it. It is quite clear that the devil can make ministers appear as ministers of Christ and that by his deceptions false teachers are able to work “lying wonders” (2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:9). It is our obligation to “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). And as we test the claims of so-called tongue-speakers and other miracles and examine them in the clear light of God’s revealed word, we reach the conclusion that they are not of God.
It is not my desire to sound unkind, but our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends, in an attempt to support their claims for miracles today, can throw out and twist more passages of Scripture at one time than can be examined in a short article such as this. There are other Scriptures which we could have examined, but my aim in this article has not been to deal with all the passages relating to the work of the Spirit, nor to answer all the arguments that might be set forth by those who believe in the miraculous operations of the Spirit today. It has been intent to set forth a Biblical rationale and defense for our position that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased shortly after the close of the first century and that the function that they accomplished in the revelation of God’s will is now completely performed by the written word. “All Scripture is given by inspiration…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we need some kind of miraculous activity or direct guidance of the Spirit today, such would plainly cast doubt on the completeness and all-sufficiency of the word. We might as well just throw it out the window and wait for the Spirit to act.
We are sometimes accused of disobeying 1 Corinthians 14:39 when we teach that miraculous speaking in tongues is not for Christians today. The passage says, “…And do not forbid to speak with tongues.” No, I do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues. I merely affirm, based on Scriptural teaching, that it cannot be and is not being done today as it was in the first century. Again, a comparison of the miraculous tongues of the early church with the claims of tongues today shows that they are just not the same thing. The existence of actual miraculous tongue-speaking would necessarily presuppose that new truth were being revealed and needing to be confirmed. But, as we have already noticed, such is not the case. I plan to stay with the truth that has already been revealed because only it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16.
—taken from Gospel Anchor; January, 1988; Vol. XIV, No. 5; pp. 23-27