Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The moral and supernatural characteristics of the filling of the Spirit

Acts 11:24-25  "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord."

Introduction and review:
In recent posts on this blog we have looked at what is meant by the term "filling of the Holy Spirit".  We noted from our study of Acts 11 the following characteristics of Barnabas as a Spirit-filled believer:

1. Clear testimony  11:23a
2. Confident joy      11:23b
3. Consistent in Faith 11:24a
4. Kingdom fruit 11:24b
5. Counted reliable  11:30

The Spirit's filling ministry is marked mainly by increases in moral integrity and on occasion seasons of supernatural enablement
The above heading on this next paragraph represent where this author stands on the nature of the Spirit's filling ministry.  One writer who has aided greatly in seeing how Christians filled with the Holy Spirit are primarily impacted in moral categories and in exceptional cases, supernatural seasons, is author and theologian John R.W. Stott.  He writes the following about the filling or what he terms "the fulness of the Spirit" : "The Spirit's fullness involves not a private, mystical experience so much as moral relationships with God and our fellow man." 1 Certainly we should see a difference in a Christian who is filled or under the influence of the Spirit's working in their lives. However it must also be maintained too that being that the Spirit is the One doing the work in concert with the believer's willingness to be shaped by such filling, such a work is supernatural. 

Stott later on writes in that same booklet the following statement which I think brings clarity with regards to those Christians upon whom the Holy Spirit may Sovereignly pour out unusual amounts of supernatural graces and giftings: "I do not for a moment deny any of these things. Nevertheless, these are not the usual, general, or common purpose of God for all His people, but the unusual, particular, and exceptional ministries of the Holy Spirit to some. Those to whom the Sovereign Spirit grants such experiences should indeed bow down and worship God in gratitude. But they should not, if they are true to scripture, refer to any of them as the baptism of the Spirit. Nor should they urge the same experiences upon others as if they were the spiritual norm. Nor should they suggest that such unusual spiritual experiences are the secret of either holiness or usefulness, since many in the history of the church have been powerful in character and ministry without them."2

With the mainly moral and occasional supernatural dimensions of the filling of the Spirit laid out, let us now briefly aim to put some Bible underneath these statements, being that without the scriptures, we have no authority by which to understand life nor the Christian life. 

Scriptures that lay out for us the Spirit-filled life in its moral and supernatural characteristics
For sake of brevity, we will lay out as much as possible the main texts in the Epistles that explain to us the Spirit-filled Christian life.  The Book of Acts certainly gives us concrete illustrations of such (such as Peter, Paul and Barnabas), however we also need explanations and clarifications of such events and experiences, which is why we turn to the Epistles.

1. Romans 8:5  "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds onthe things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit."

In Romans 8:1-5 the Apostle Paul lays out a full description of the Spirit-filled life with regards to how it operates  - namely by the law or power of the Spirit.  Much like an aircraft "operates" by the law of lift in counteracting the "law of gravity", the Spirit-filled Christian relies upon the indwelling Spirit to influence him or her to govern their drives, emotional life and thought lives by the Spirit's work of filling and leading them.

2. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?"

The distinctions made between "carnal" and "spiritual" should not be taken too sharply to refer to two classifcations of Christians, but rather two ways in which Christians can operate.  All Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit and all Christians have the new nature. However some Christians choose to rely upon their soulish realm of mind, emotions and will in living their lives, rather than the Holy Spirit inside their human spirit.  The terms "spiritual" and "carnal" define the source from whence the Christian is operating or being influenced. The goal of the Spirit-filled life is always to submit one's soulish realm under the influence of the Holy Spirit in the human spirit. Remember - the Spirit-filled life is not a matter of you getting more of the Spirit, but rather Him having more of you.

3. Galatians 5:16 "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."
Paul here is explaining the Spirit-filled life in another fashion as that which defines the Christian's manner of living or walking. It is in this chapter of Galatians we see both the primary moral emphasis of the Spirit filled life (Galatians 5:22-24, 26) and the supernatural aspect undergirding the moral fruit (Galatians 5:25). 

4. Ephesians 5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."  

This passage is the clearest one in all the New Testament that demonstrates the obligation every Christian has to be Spirit-filled.  Here we see the heart of this teaching - namely being under the influence and control of the Spirit. In context we see how the filling of the Holy Spirit is to be a constant and repeatable experience of the Christian, whereby they consciously submit themselves to the Spirit's leading through the scriptures.  Ephesians 6 of course lays out the practical outcomes of the filling of the Spirit in the realm of marriage, raising children, employment and spiritual warfare. 

5. Colossians 3:16 "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

This passage functions as a parallel to Ephesians 5:18 and ties together the Holy Spirit's ministry inside the Christian's human spirit to the Holy Spirit's ministry to the Christian through the scriptures.  It is a manifest impossibility to be Spirit-filled apart from exposure, study and submission to the Word of God.  Being that Paul write Ephesians and Colossians at almost the same time, we can see why his remarks are so closely related.  

6. 2 Peter 1:4-5a "For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, havingescaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence...."

Though we may not necessarily see the term "filling in this passage", yet this is Peter's way of describing the same reality.  Both the primary moral dimension of the Holy Spirit's filling and ministry and its attendant supernatural aspect is described fully here in 2 Peter 1.  Years ago author Jack Taylor described the Spirit-filled life as the "much more life".  As Peter dsecribes the Spirit-filled Christian in these verses, he is speaking of someone who sees the need to "add" onto their faith.  

Closing thoughts
The hope is that with these last few posts, that the reader has gotten initiated to this very important and often neglected area of the Spirit-filled Christian life.  The reader is encouraged to look at the passages in today's post, as well as the remarks made over the past couple of posts to bring into sharper understand this curcial truth for Christian living - the Spirit-filled life. 
1. John R.W. Stott. The Baptism and Fulness of the Spirit. Intervarsity Press. 1965.

2. John R.W. Stott. The Baptism and Fulness of the Spirit. Intervarsity Press. 1965. Page 36