The Work of the Spirit | pt. 1

Introduction and Thesis

The Apostle Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Cor 12:1).[1] This is a very important subject yet sadly very divisive. The reality is “there is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5) but there are many divergent views on the work of the Spirit within the Church. So we have all the more reason to carefully evaluate this subject.[2]

This subject is important to consider because we want Christ’s church to be as healthy as it can possibly be, we want it to be adorned as Christ would have it. If there are good gifts that are available to the church for it’s upbuilding then we should want to and should make use of them.[3] Especially because 1 Corinthians 12:31 tells us we are to eagerly desire the greater grace gifts.

I believe that all the good gifts that were available at the outset of the church continue to be available and will be until the consummation when the Lord Jesus comes back to get His bride. So my thesis is that God the Spirit continues to empower and provide various grace gifts[4] to the Church for its upbuilding and these gifts should be earnestly desired and practiced in accordance with Scripture. This is very important to consider because “despite the affirmations in our creeds… and the lip service paid to the Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit is largely marginalized in our actual life together as a community of faith.”[5]

Setting the Context

I have a number of questions that are important for us to honestly consider.[6] Could it be the case that some people have a bias against the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?[7] Could it be that people do not have solid biblical reasons for believing that the “more miraculous” gifts of the Spirit have ceased? Could it be that most people’s beliefs in this regard are simply based upon what they have heard someone else say? Could it be that in this case, people have failed to check what was taught to ensure it was in accordance with Scripture (See Acts 17:11)?

Could it be that the Western enlightenment worldview has crept into our own view of the world and impacted the way we think about spiritual things?[8] Many have adopted a view of reality that sees “the universe as a uniform system based strictly on the cause-and-effect relationships between its constituent parts, each in a determinate relationship one to the others, utterly closed to any dimensions of reality that transcend the natural.”[9] Of course, many Christians rightly confess with Abraham Kuyper, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” But, could it still be the case that “naturalism nonetheless deeply influences our view of the daily events of our lives”[10]?

Can we concede that the continuation of the gifts would be a good thing? Should not we want all the grace that our good Father has availed to us? How can we say something is bad that our Father has called good?[11] If the grace gifts are part of the “every good and perfect gifts” (Jas 1:17) that God has graciously given us then should we not receive them gratefully?[12] If spiritual gifts are as bad and unhelpful as many make them seem, then why would the gifts have ever existed at all?

If there is an experience of the Holy Spirit that would make Jesus more real and more obviously present, and that would set us free from our inhibitions and reluctance, should we not want it?[13] Are we not still in need of the Spirit’s empowering as we continue to carry our Lord’s command to be a witness to the nations? Jesus sent the Helper to be with us and said it was even better that He leave so we would be empowered by the Spirit. And yet the gifts that He gave at the beginning are no longer necessary?[14]

Further, Jesus’ followers had a Jewish background. When they heard that they would receive power when the Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8[15]) they would have recalled the Old Testament. They would have remembered the empowering presence of the Spirit on people like Gideon, Samson, Saul, and David (see e.g. 1 Sam 16:13). Elisha who followed Elijah knew that he needed the empowerment of the Spirit.[16] Could it be that, as the first disciples needed power from the Spirit to be Christ’s witnesses we still need similar empowerment? If not, why not? Many might point here to the completed canon of Scripture, yet Jesus said it was better that He go not because then the canon would be complete but because then the Helper, the Spirit, would come. Further, do we who have never seen the resurrected Lord Jesus with our eyes need the empowering presence of the Spirit any less than those who did?

We may not have the same ministry as Elisha and the first disciples but are we so different that we do not need empowered to be God’s witnesses to the nations? Of course, most will agree that we too need empowered. They will, however, say that our empowerment is different. Is that conclusion on solid biblical grounds, though?

If we could be empowered in a similar way that the first disciples were, would that be objectionable? Why should we not want that? And how could we say that it is not needed, especially in some contexts?[17]

Full disclosure, I desire for God to pour out more grace gifts on the Church for the upbuilding of His body. There is rampant drug addiction, sexual abuse, and slavery in vast regions of the world. May God more and more empower His people to fight the works of Satan with His mighty gospel and the accompanying mighty outpouring of the Spirit that something akin to what happened in Acts 19:19[18] would become commonplace (notice the miraculous events that happened beforehand). Can we at least admit that we should not disparage the idea of the Spirit working in such a miraculous way? Can we at least say that it might be possible for God to do that? And, if it is possible, why should we not want it to happen? Would it be so bad if there were still miraculous works of the Spirit?

The above questions, of course, are not the same as exegetical argumentation. But perhaps, as I desire, it hit your heart.[19] And perhaps with your heart pricked you will consider this subject again with your head. The truth is, there have been all sorts of sad and sordid abuses by the charismatic wing of the church. That, in its self, however, is no argument against the continuation of the grace gifts. Perhaps you can now admit, at least hypothetically, that it would not necessarily be a bad thing if the grace gifts continue to be given.

After considering the above questions, I trust we are in a better place to consider our thesis; that God continues to empower and provide various grace gifts to the Church to be pursued and carried out according to Scripture. Hopefully, guards are down. Hopefully, the next posts can now be read not with an eye of suspicion but with anticipation. It is good to come to questions anew and read unbiasedly.

You can see the next post here.

______

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations come from the ESV.

[2] While you evaluate this subject, please heed the words of Proverbs 18:17: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” and try to fairly understand both sides on this matter.

[3] As Thomas R. Schreiner has said, “our understanding of spiritual gifts is important because churches have to decide whether the gifts will be exercised in the congregation” (Spiritual Gifts [Nashville, TN: B&S Publishing, 2018], loc. 60).

[4] Sam Storms defines grace gifts/spiritual gifts “as a God-given and, therefore, gracious capacity to serve the Body of Christ. It is a divinely empowered or spiritually energized potential to minister to the Body of Christ by communicating the knowledge, power and love of Jesus” (The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts [Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012], 21).

[5] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 1.

[6] While questions do not themselves prove anything, they do cause people to consider things they may have otherwise not considered. Intelligent questions can make people rethink their perspective and consider a view that they would not otherwise (see Joshua D. Chatraw and Mark D. Allen, Apologetics at the Cross, 50 and also Gregory Koukl’s book, Tactics, e.g. 88 for the important place of questions within argumentation). The most compelling and profound reason to use questions in argumentation though is because Jesus Himself did.

[7] As D.A. Carson has said, “There is a long tradition of reading one’s particular ecclesiastical tradition into the text” (Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 [Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 1987], 44). Similarly, Fee says, “none of us approaches these questions tabula rasa. Our own experiences of Christ, the Spirit, and the church, both individually and corporately, not only prepare us to read the texts in a certain way, but also tend to dictate how we go about the task of thinking through them with some kind of coherence” (God’s Empowering Presence, 799).

[8] “In a ‘scientific age’ it is common to reject the possibility of God’s healing the sick. Unfortunately, this is also true of many contemporary Christians, whose theology has made a sever disjunction between the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of God’s working. This seems to be a seriously flawed understanding of the kingdom, which according to the NT was inaugurated by Christ in the power of the Spirit, who continues the work of the kingdom until the consummation. Indeed, this seems to be a thoroughgoing denial of the NT view of the Spirit” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 168n321).

[9] Ed Murphy, The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, 4.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Could this not be similar to what Peter gets rebuked for in Acts 10:15?

[12] Yes, let us employ them as He has directed but let us never spurn His gifts because of human sin.

[13] Adapted from Terry Virgo’s book, The Spirit-Filled Church (Grand Rapids, Monarch, 2011), 14.

[14] If someone comes to that conclusion the burden of proof is on them to prove their case.

[15] “First-century believers understood—and assumed—the Spirit to be manifested in power. So much is this so that the terms ‘Spirit’ and ‘power’ at times are used interchangeably” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 35).

[16] See Virgo, The Spirit-Filled Church, 13-14.

[17] I believe that God’s empowering presence can still look very similar to what it looked like for the first disciples. I do not believe, however, that it is normative. Schreiner, a cessationist himself says, God “gives what he in order to accomplish his purposes. It is also possible that God would grant gifts of miracles, healings, and signs and wonders in a cutting edge missionary situation. I will argue later that such a situation isn’t usual, and even on the mission field we can’t expect such to happen, for it is the exception not the rule. Nonetheless, God may do as he pleases” (Spiritual Gifts, Loc. 359). This is confusing coming from Schreiner who, as I said, is trying to make a case for cessationism in this book. If God possibly still grants “gifts of miracles, healings, and signs and wonders” to “accomplish his purposes” would not we want to follow Paul’s exhortation to eagerly desire those gifts (1 Cor 12:31)?

[18] Look at the result of the Spirit’s work in Acts 19: “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul…  And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices… So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (See Acts 19:11-20).

[19] Jesus often came at truth not merely with exegetical argumentation. This is not popular to do in theological argumentation and that, in my opinion, is faulty. It is faulty because it is based upon a wrong understanding of how we see and understand the world. And it is wrong because it fails to follow the Lord Jesus. Humans are not mere automatons, that is not what we were created to be. We should work against communicating that we are to be merely brains in a vat.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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