Holy Spirit

How to Not Hear the Holy Spirit

“I feel like the Lord is leading me to do it.” Those were my friend’s parting words to me. I told him not to follow this leading, but he’d had an experience he “really felt was from the Lord.” I tried to explain what the Bible had to say about his choice. In fact, many had. But, he had an experience, and he wasn’t budging. So off he went—into his error, out of the church, and away from Jesus.

This situation it so common in churches across the spectrum that you could probably fill in details from similarly painful conversations. Add to that our culture’s commitment to an expressive individualism that exalts actualizing our desires above conforming to God’s, and we’ve set the stage for rough times when trying to convince someone that what they “feel led to do” may not be the Holy Spirit at all.

No wonder some respond to this problem by simply denying God’s Spirit speaks to us today. My point here is not to debate that point, since others have done so (e.g., here and here).

Regardless, the Scriptures admonish us to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). And there are some ways we should all be able to agree one cannot do that. Here are four.

1. Without the Bible

Attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading without the Bible is foolish at best and sinful at worst. As I’ve written before, we may learn much here from our charismatic friends. But if one argues that the Spirit has led them to a conclusion, action, or emotion the same Spirit has condemned in Scripture, that person blasphemes. Perhaps you think that’s too strong a word, but consider this: Such an insistence tacitly accuses God of double-mindedness, calls into question the authority of his Word, and makes the believer the final authority in matters of life and practice. That’s blasphemy.

The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

It’s entirely possible that someone had a profound spiritual experience that led him or her to no longer trust the Bible. That’s deception. The Spirit himself tells us we’re to expect such deception (2 Cor. 11:14). The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

2. Without the Church

A sure-fire way to not walk with the Spirit is to try to walk by yourself. There is simply no evidence in Scripture that we should expect to faithfully live a Spirit-filled life if we’re not being led into and among his people. God—at the infinite cost of his life—has given us not just a spiritual relationship with himself, but also with each other.

This is why broken fellowship within the body is such a big deal. We are members of one another. Tearing away from Christ’s body while trying to be faithful to his Spirit is like severing your arm while expecting it to keep operating the remote control. When you feel led to do something, it is wise to run such promptings by your trusted fathers and mothers in the faith, particularly in the context of your local church.

3. Without Wisdom

Proverbs aren’t promises, but they are proverbs. That is, the same Spirit that now resides within God’s people inspired Solomon to write down many words of wisdom. Paul prays that we’ll be filled with the Spirit of wisdom—the Holy Spirit.

If you “feel led” to do something that seems foolish to you, your trusted advisers, and your Bible, your feeling is likely just that.

4. Without Faith

Without faith we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6), much less follow him. Keeping in step with the Spirit, then, means trusting that God can and will lead you. You trust and follow, and he guides and leads, often to do seemingly impossible things—raising godly kids, remaining faithful in a difficult marriage, trusting him for evangelistic opportunities, planting churches, and making disciples.

None of that comes naturally to any of us. It all requires Paul’s prayer—that our eyes be opened to the Spirit’s powerful working—to come true. And it will, if we believe.

Sitting Ducks for Deception

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at convincing my friend. He’d had an experience. He’d shut his Bible, shut his doors, shut out wisdom, and, therefore, shut out God. And tragically, he’s not alone. We must learn to hold on to the Spirit and to Scripture—to personal faith and to spiritual family. If we do so, we’ll set ourselves in a good place for the Spirit’s leading. If not, we may be sitting ducks for deception.

So before we say, “I feel like the Lord is leading me,” let it be said of us that we’ve been listening to his Word, his people, his wisdom, and his ways.

4 Ways Rest is Resistance

"I've got 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence." That's what Harold Abrahams famously stated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He ran, chasing his worth. We're just like him, I'm afraid. So much of our doing — heck, of my doing — is a chasing. But in the gospel we find an invitation to rest in the finished doing of Jesus. Which begs the question ...

How do we do that?

Answer: We resist. And that's where sabbath rest comes in. So, here are four ways rest is an act of resistance.

Rest is Resistance Against Anxiety

God's people can resist the anxiety built in to the system of performance-based religion, production-based value, and market-based human worth by resting. Taking a day off differentiates us from the system. The practice of leisure and levity are super important here. Anxious people can't laugh. Conversely, laughing people can't remain anxious.

Rest is Resistance Against Autonomy

There is a self-actualization arms race that pressures Western people to "be their most authentic self." No longer do we find our meaning, identity, and purpose within the society, the family, the church, or the group. Now we all bear the pressure of discovering and deploying our authentic individual self — something which the Bible never commands us to do. When we rest, we're resisting the false gospel of the autonomous self and remembering that we're a part of a different people. Namely, those who've found rest in Christ. Those who have laid down their striving after their ten seconds, as it were.

Rest is Resistance Against Coercion

The whole system of self-discovery, self-governance, and self-value that this world offers us is not just oppressive. It's coercive. The demands of the boss, of the game, of the kids' soccer, creep into the time of rest. Therefore the practice of sabbath is an act of defiance against these demands. It's saying a strong, clear "no." Practically, this is where the sabbath practice of avocation (or hobby) comes in. You can put your hands to something that isn't your job because you're free in Jesus to do so.

Rest is Resistance Against Idolatry

All of this frenetic, never-ending doing is rooted in a kind of idolatry. Like the false god-king Pharaoh demanded the Israelite slaves never stop working so he could enjoy rest, the false gods we worship do the same. The career god demands we skip vacations to climb the ladder. The perfect-family-god cries out to us to us to give our lives over to our children in unceasing labor. Jesus isn't like the false gods.

Jesus is the only God who has already done the work of redemption, of acceptance, and of justification, and offers us the fruits of his labor as a gift. Rest is an act of faith where we remember that we're on the receiving end of grace, not the producing end.

Rest is hard for driven people. I know, because I'm driven. But we must resist the rush and return to rest.


You Probably Didn't Know This About The Holy Spirit

On Sunday I preached on the Holy Spirit at church. Whenever the topic of the third person of the Trinity comes around, there's no shortage of misconception about His nature and His roles. Unsurprisingly, people steeped in a rigorously secular culture like ours have a difficult time embracing, much less understanding, God the Spirit. So, here are a few interesting facts about the Holy Spirit that you may not know, but should.

The Spirit Works to Advance the Mission

If you were to visit some modern Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, you might reasonably assume that the role of the Holy Spirit was to make people act oddly and occasionally fall over. In fact, the manifestations of the Spirit are, without exception, given to advance the mission of making disciples. Luke's writings make this cespecially clear. Here's a fun chart (charts are fun, btw)[note]John Hardon, "The Miracle Narratives in the Acts of the Apostles," Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 16 (1996): 303-18.[/note] explaining the miracles that Luke records in the book of Acts:

Miracle Associated with Peter


Miracle Associated with Paul


Many signs and wonders were done by the Apostles, with Peter, among the Jews in Jerusalem (2:43) The gospel was preached and many believed (2:47). Many signs and wonders were done by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles in Asia Minor (14:3). The gospel was preached and controversy arose (14:7).
Peter, in the company of John at the temple gate, heals the man lame from his mother’s womb (3:1 sq.) Praise, and all were filled with wonder, and the gospel was preached (3:10-16). Paul, in the company of Barnabas at Lystra, heals the man lame from his birth (14:7 sq.) The gospel was preached and many disciples were made (14:21).
Peter rebukes Ananias and Saphira, who are struck dead for tempting the Spirit of the Lord (5:1 sq.) Fear came upon the church, more believers were added (5:11, 14). Paul rebukes the sorcerer Elymas, who is suddenly blinded for making crooked the straight ways of the Lord (13:8 sq.) The proconsul believed the gospel (13:12).
The building in Jerusalem is shaken, where Peter and the disciples were praying for strength from God (4:31) Generosity, grace, and growth resulted (4:32-37). The prison building at Philippi is shaken, where Paul and Silas were praying and singing the praises of God (16:25 sq.) The jailer and his whole household believe (16:31).
Peter is so filled with the power of God that even his shadow is enough to heal the sick on whom it falls (5:15) More believers were added (5:14). Paul is so effective in working miracles that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his body to the sick and the diseases left them (19:12) People repented and the word of the Lord increased (19:20).
At Lydda, Peter suddenly heals the paralytic Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years (9:33 sq.) The residents of Lydda and Sharon returned to the Lord (9:35). On Malta, Paul suddenly cures the father of his host, Publius, of fever and dysentery (28:7 sq.) Provision for the mission of God was given (28:9-10).
At Joppa, Peter restores to life the woman Tabitha, who had been devoted to works of charity (9:36 sq.) Many believed (9:42). At Troas, Paul restores to life the young man Eutychus, who fell down from the third story (20:9 sq.) The disciples were comforted and the church meeting continued (20:10-11).
Peter’s chains are removed, and he is delivered from prison in Jerusalem by means of an angel (12:5 sq.) Peter was free to preach the gospel (12:19). Paul’s chains are suddenly loosed in the prison at Philippi (16:25 sq.) The jailer is converted (16:30).

The work of the Spirit is to advance the mission of making disciples and glorifying God. Always, only, ever.

The Spirit Didn't Stop When The Bible Did

A common rejoinder from modern secular people is that when the cannon of Scripture was closed, the Spirit packed up all the party supplies (supernatural gifts and acts) and went home. The only problem with that is history. And the Bible.

In fact, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is uniformly attested to by the earliest post-biblical sources as not only normative, but critical to the mission. Early church leaders were pretty much expected to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.[note]Ronald Kydd notes that “[All the leaders] were expected to minister charismatically. . .; Ronald A. N. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), 10.[/note] The are entire books on this subject, but here are a few choice quotes:

God imparts spiritual gifts from the grace of His Spirit's power to those who believe in Him according as He deems each man worthy thereof. I have already said, and do again say, that it had been prophesied that this would be done by Him after His ascension to heaven. . . . Now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.[note]Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 6.1.[/note]

In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God.[note]Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 32.3.[/note]

Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.[note]Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.[/note]

The history of the early church is not all doctrines and councils. Its the story of the work of the Spirit to grow the church in the midst of a hard culture.

The Spirit Is Alive and Well Today

The fastest growing religious movement in the history of the human race is the the global Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.[note]Allan Anderson, "Global Pentecostalism," A Paper presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference, 3 April 2015,  Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.[/note] In fact, the story of the global church is one that is no longer shy of the supernatural, because it doesn't share Western, post-enlightenment epistemological baggage. In his book The Next Christendom,  Philip Jenkins writes, “Making all allowances for generalization, then, global South Christians retain a strong supernatural orientation. . . . For the foreseeable future, though, the dominant theological tone of emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural.”[note]For more on this see: Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2011)[/note] I love academic theology, and I love the exchange of ideas. But if we are to be academically honest, then we must admit that the engine which drives the forward progress of the gospel is not the power of the mind, but the power of the Spirit. He is alive and well and working wonders, and we need more of His power. I'll let Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones say it best:

In the New Testament and, indeed, in the whole of the Bible, we are taught that the baptism with the Spirit is attended by certain gifts. Joel in his prophecy, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, foretells this. . . . Joel, and the other prophets who also spoke of it, indicated that in the age which was to come, and which came with the Lord Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, there should be some unusual authentication of the message. . . . My friends, this is to me one of the most urgent matters at this hour. With the church as she is and the world as it is, the greatest need today is the power of God through his Spirit in the church that we may testify not only to the power of the Spirit, but to the glory and praise of the one and only Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord, Son of God, Son of Man.[note]David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Sovereign Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1985), 26, 33.[/note]