During my years at Bible College the cessationist faculty in their endeavour to squash any interest in charismatic life would argue that only the irresponsible, immature and flamboyant Corinthians were involved in a preoccupation with charismata. From their point of view Spiritual gifts could hardly be found anywhere else in the New Testament. Indeed, any reference to the Holy Spirit was regarded with suspicion.
Since then of course so much has changed. Charismatic churches have flourished and become an accepted part of church life within the UK. Having said that, I wonder if we have even started to recognise the huge part played by the powerful activity of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Tragically discussion about the Holy Spirit in charismatic churches has often been reduced to a debate about the place of so-called “contributions” in Sunday morning meetings.
Recently, when working my way through Galatians, I noticed that Paul did not withstand the invasion of the Judaizers by simply arguing for justification by faith (rather than works of the Law) but instead argued for their evident experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence, Galatians 3:1-5. Their initiation into the Christian Church had been accompanied by such an outburst of Holy Spirit activity that their inclusion was obvious. As Bishop Lightfoot says, he was “bountifully supplied”. Just as with the household of Cornelius, these (gentile) people were obviously included because they had evidently received the Holy Spirit. Here according to Ben Witherington was “tangible evidence and concrete proof”.
Paul was not content to leave his Ephesian converts soaking in baptismal water, he immediately laid hands on them to ensure they were also clearly Spirit filled, (Acts 19:1-6).
Not only had the Galatians received the Holy Spirit, he had manifestly continued his activity among them. He “works (present tense) miracles among you” (Gal 3:5). He had come to stay and was still at work. They were a Spirit-filled community and, through continued supernatural happenings, it showed! Who had bewitched them into thinking that they needed to add Old Testament Law in order to be accepted when God was so obviously happy to be among them?
Antidote to the flesh.
Not only were there manifestations of the miraculous through the Spirit’s presence, assurance of victory over the flesh was promised. This New Testament Church could live a holy life not by devotion to the Law but by virtue of the energy of the Holy Spirit. Paul made a wonderful promise in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Ben Witherington argues that the double negative “makes the statement emphatic and so may be translated ‘certainly not’”. They would “certainly not” carry out the desire of the flesh. A thoroughgoing engagement with the Spirit would transform their experience regarding the flesh’s demands. Their experience was not to be one of constant conflict or inevitable defeat owning the melancholy testimony that we are after all only miserable sinners.
Living by the Spirit is the antidote to the threat of the flesh, but we need thoroughly to cultivate our relationship with him, not give lip service to his person and presence. We are invited into “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” not nominal awareness of him. Conscious communion with the Holy Spirit is on offer as an experienced reality but how much do you take up the offer? Paul’s word to the Ephesians is that we should be continually Spirit filled, singing and making melody to the Lord. (Eph 5:18-19).
The much despised Benny Hinn (of whom I’m not a particular fan) wrote a book with the extraordinary title “Good Morning Holy Spirit”: I can’t honestly remember all that the book had to say, but the conscious awareness of daily encounter implied in the title is a provocative reminder of his promised presence and desire to be our formidable friend and fortifier.
We cannot afford to underplay the role of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives or the life of the church.